Markey, Blumenthal Push FCC, MVPDs On Set-Tops

Seek Input from MSOs, Ask to Speed CableCARD Successor

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) may have decided not to block the STELAR Act satellite reauthorization bill over its sunset of the cable set-top integration ban, but that does not mean either he or Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), both opponents of eliminating the ban, have given up the fight for a competitive retail set-top market.

Even as Sen. Harry Reid was trying to fast-track approval of the must-pass bill Thursday (Nov. 20), Markey and Blumenthal were sending letters to the FCC and to the top 10 MVPDs.

The letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeller called on the FCC to use its authority "to ensure that consumers have more choices in set top boxes than merely leasing their boxes from their cable company." The STELAR bill does direct the FCC to start looking for a successor to the CableCARD hardware solution for separating the surfing and security functions of boxes (an effort to promote a retail market that did not pan out). But the Senators put an exclamation on that point and looked to light a fire under the effort.

They want the FCC to "immediately" convene the working group that STELAR mandate and "quickly" begin a rulemaking to create a simpler, cheaper, more energy efficient and more consumer-friendly alternative that will provide consumers real choice.

“Set-top boxes have the potential to enable millions of Americans to access an enormous amount of content in innovative, new, and less costly ways,” they wrote to Wheeler. “Without strong FCC action, consumers may be left with no choice but to rent set top boxes from their cable providers in perpetuity, which is akin to the days when consumers had no choice but to rent their rotary dial telephone from the telephone company.”

The letters to the MVPDs sought their views on the state of the set-top marketplace and information on the three C's: how many customers, what were the costs, and what were the choices in boxes.

“We believe the need to increase rather than limit consumer choices remains as vital as ever,” write the Senators in the letters to the companies. “Just as consumers can select their mobile phone from an increasing array of models regardless of carrier, consumers today should also be able to choose from a large selection of smart set top box devices.”

Getting the letter: Comcast, DirecTV, Dish Network, Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, AT&T U-Verse, Verizon FiOS Video, Cox Communications, Cablevision Systems and Bright House Networks.