Bernie Sanders Slams Set-Top Box Market

Candidate Joins Call for FCC to Launch a Rule-Making ASAP

WASHINGTON -- Pay TV set-top market critics Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have brought in reinforcements, including Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Markey and Blumenthal asked for, and received, set-top box info from Comcast, AT&T’s DirecTV and U-verse TV, Dish Network, Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, Verizon Communications’s FiOS TV, Cox Communications, Cablevision Systems and Bright House Networks, then said the results showed that there continued to be a lack of competition in the set-top market.

That comes as the FCC works on a downloadable set-top security successor to the CableCard, after its ban on integrated conditional-access software was legislated away by Congress in the STELAR satellite-reauthorization bill.

In the letter Monday to Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler, Markey and Blumenthal were joined by five other Democratic senators and Sanders.

Markey and Blumenthal cited the $20 billion per year in set-top rental fees and, while they did not come right out and mention “AllVid” -- the proposal by computer companies for the FCC to require a universal box that weds video from various sources -- they did say the time had come “for the FCC to enable millions of Americans to access an enormous amount of content in innovative, new and less-costly ways.”

Now that the FCC-appointed Downloadable Security Technical Advisory Committee (DSTAC), created by Congress to come up with a downloadable successor to the CableCard has released its final report — offering up a range of options — the senators want the FCC to move quickly to a rulemaking that insures that the successor will be "cheap, efficient, widely available and easy to use."

They suggested that without FCC intervention, pay TV distributors would be offering set-top choices comparable to the rotary phone rental days of Ma Bell.

They said they wanted an answer from Wheeler by Dec. 4 on his plans to boost set-top competition and choice.

"Instead of embracing the widely-adopted apps model that could lead to a future without set-top boxes, the backwards-looking AllVid proposal would require consumers to add a new government-designed box that hasn't even been created and could be another failed tech mandate," the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said in response to news of the letter.