Press Release Video Marketplace

Public Knowledge Rejects NCTA’s App Defense for Cable Box Rip-off

April 13, 2016 , , , ,

Today, the National Cable Telecommunications Association’s chief Michael Powell delivered a video service demonstration in which he claimed that apps allow consumers to access pay-TV content and streaming video services on the same device, and sometimes without a set-top box. Public Knowledge contends that the app market is an insufficient substitute for consumer choice and supports the FCC’s proposal to unlock the box.

The following can be attributed to Kate Forscey, Government Affairs Associate Counsel at Public Knowledge:

“The continued rhetoric about moving toward an ‘apps-only’ market is rooted in a false choice. The set-top debate is not about apps vs. devices; it is about opened versus closed markets. The FCC’s proposal is the most inclusive, providing the broadest range of options for consumers to choose how they experience the programming they pay for. Under the competitive navigation solution, they can choose from any or all options — devices, software, SmartTVs, and yes, apps. It’s all on the table.

“But the apps-based approach endorsed by Big Cable and Big Hollywood allows only one ‘competitive’ option: cable-approved apps. That avenue only further consolidates cable’s current stranglehold over consumers. The end result of an apps-based proposal means cable companies maintain control over the 99 percent of consumers who still rent their boxes, without a competitive alternative market for devices, while at the same time extending their grip further to the innovative new technologies best poised to threaten that grip.

“Mr. Powell calls #UnlockTheBox ‘theft’ — but what is being stolen? Consumers are still paying for their subscription programming, whether it’s delivered through a cable box or a third-party device. The real theft is the $15-20 billion dollars a year in rental fees cable companies reap from their customers because consumers have no choice in devices. Nothing in the cable proposal addresses those overcharges, or that cable operators will continue to control everything from who gets to develop the applications, to who controls them.

“In fact, the key takeaway from cable’s demo is that it simply proves how easy it is to open the box. There is no functional difference between an ‘app’ on a cell phone and an ‘app’ on an independent set-top box that relieves you of the obligation to rent. The real issue is simple: finally giving consumers the broadest array of choices, and lower prices, from a vibrant, competitive video marketplace.”

For more information on the set-top box proposal, please view our fact sheet on competitive navigation or listen to our recent podcast. You can also view our latest blog post, “Zombies, Pirates, and Why the Latest Copyright Fray Over Set-Top Box Undermines Itself.”