A five-year satellite television reauthorization bill is on its way to the President after both the House and Senate passed the measure this week, and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said he would immediately start the process of forming a working group required in the bill to look into a next generation follow-on to the CableCARD.
The bill would repeal the so-called “integration ban” one year after the bill is enacted. As CQ Roll Call’s Daniel Peake writes (subscription), this is the requirement that cable and satellite set-top boxes use a common device (the CableCARD) for signal decryption:
CableCARD was developed in an effort to help independent manufacturers of set-top boxes and other electronics to compete against cable and satellite companies by eliminating the need for the specific set-top box provided by the cable or satellite operator.
The bill Congress sent to the President Thursday also would require Wheeler, within a month-and-a-half of the bill’s enactment, to create a working group of technical experts to recommend performance objectives and technical standards of a “not unduly burdensome, uniform, and technology- and platform-neutral software-based downloadable security system designed to promote the competitive availability of navigation devices…” The panel would be required to submit recommendations to the FCC within nine months of the bill’s enactment.
“We’re gonna move now,” Wheeler told reporters Friday in answering a question about whether the group would be commenced immediately, assuming the President signs the bill. He noted that the agency first has to go through a process under existing law to form such a council, but said that the agency would start that process now.
On Thursday, Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., wrote to Wheeler saying the FCC should work to ensure a “competitive set top box marketplace” and to do so, would need to “require a new simpler, cheaper and more efficient standard of common reliance embedded in all set top boxes.”
They called on the FCC to issue rules for a new standard, and fast:
If STELAR becomes law, we urge the FCC to immediately convene this working group and, following the group’s conclusion, quickly commence a rulemaking so that a new standard can be developed without delay. 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.