The FCC voted to put a proposal to “open up” the set-top box out for public comment, despite fierce lobbying against it from cable and satellite firms as well as Hollywood studios.
The vote was 3-2, with commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly dissenting.
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler says that the proposal will boost competition, as consumers would have the choice of renting the devices from their pay-TV provider or buying one on their own.
The proposal would establish an open platform so manufacturers could create their own set-top box.
“Nothing in this proposal slows down or stops cable innovation,” Wheeler said.
“Costs are too high, innovation is slow and competition is too limited,” said commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, while acknowledging that “more work needs to be done to streamline the proposal.” Under the proposal, a standard setting body would lay out technical specifications for manufacturers.
The FCC will vote on final rules after a period of review.
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn predicted that the proposal would lead to a wider set of options for programming, countering critics’ claims that the proposal would reduce minority-focused choices.
“Our goal should not be to unlock the box; it should be to eliminate the box,” said Pai, who said that the proposal would “introduce an entirely new set of boxes into consumers’ homes.” He said that the proposal is “likely to produce a stalemate,” doubting that the open standards body would be able to reach a consensus.
He also suggested that the proposal would shift distribution power to set-top box manufacturers.
O’Rielly called the set-top box a “relic of the past,” while predicting that it would be harmful to consumers.
He also raised concerns about content theft and other security issues.