Press Release

Public Interest Groups Ask FCC To Break Cable’s Lock On Set-Top Box

June 11, 2007 ,

Nine public-interest and consumer groups today asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to limit the ability of cable operators to stifle competition through the set-top box.

The groups said that the cable industry, working through its CableLabs organization, is creating standards for two-way cable operation that will limit innovation and reduce consumer choice. Through its use of proprietary “OpenCable Application Platform” (OCAP) standard, cable companies are “giving the cable industry undue control over the customer's equipment.” The letter asked for more opportunity for non-cable companies to create CableCARD devices allowing consumers more control over their two-way cable services.

While cable has offered new technologies that benefit consumers, “these technological innovations should not be used as a means to limit competition,” the letter said: “Right now, consumers who use third-party CableCARD devices rather than proprietary set-top boxes may be penalized and not able to use the full range of services they subscribe to.” In order to comply with the 1996 Telecommunications Act, cable has to allow third-party manufacturers to make devices that are compatible with all of the video services offered by cable,” the groups told the Commission.

They recommended that the FCC issue for public comment a proposal made Nov. 7, 2006 by the Consumer Electronics Association and a group of companies that would make the use of cable's proprietary operating standard optional and would open the standards-setting process: “To allow the cable industry to write the rules its competitors must follow limits competition and locks out flexible and innovative features from consumers.”

The groups also said that any discussion of standards for set-top boxes include discussion of the ability of consumers to make lawful use of the content they legally obtained, whether for recording, time-shifting or place-shifting. They also asked that a consumer advocate be involved in discussions of new standards.

Groups signing the letter are (in alphabetical order): Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press, Knowledge Ecology International, Media Access Project, New America Foundation, Public Knowledge and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

A copy of the letter is here