We knew that the incoming administration would mean changes in the FCC, and probably not of the consumer-friendly time. But new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has already killed off a proposal that would force cable companies to unlock their set-top box technology, which would allow third parties to build their own set-top boxes.
Pai removed the set-top box proposal from the FCC’s agenda, which doesn’t officially mean it’s dead — just that it will wither into oblivion in someone’s out-tray for the next four years.
The idea behind the set-top box unlocking, which was introduced and championed by Obama’s FCC chair, Tom Wheeler, was to allow more choice and competition in set-top boxes. Just as you don’t have to rent a cable modem from your ISP any more, you shouldn’t have to to rent the cable boxes from your cable company.
The upside would be the integration of cable TV with other TV set-top devices, like the Apple TV or Chromecasts. For the cable companies, it would be the death knell of a reliable revenue stream, and turn them more and more into utilities that simply provide internet and TV bundles to houses, no hardware included.
Turning cable companies into utilities is exactly what Wheeler wanted to do, via proposals like net neutrality and the set-top box unlocking. But with Pai in power, you can expect far less regulation.
In fairness, this proposal didn’t receive the universal praise from tech companies that net neutrality did. It’s also kinda-sorta happening anyway, as cable companies are increasingly allowing subscribers to stream TV through mobile apps, or offering streaming-only packages like DirecTV Now. But still, it’s a blow for anyone who hates seeing that $8.99-a-month hardware rental charge on an already-bloated cable bill.