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Set-Top Era Over, Says FCC

SAN JOSE, Calif. – The era of the set-top box is over, according to officials at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, announcing a proposal to open up competition for delivering pay-TV services.

A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to be released Thursday aims to let any system or application access pay-TV streams, putting an end to the high cost of renting set-tops currently defined and provided by pay-TV providers. The proposal would require service providers to choose open formats defined by industry standards groups to describe how to access their programs, program guides and their security requirements.

The FCC will vote on the proposal on February 18. After a period for public comment, the FCC would schedule a final vote on the proposal at a time not yet determined.

The move is the latest of many stretching over decades to enable an open market for set-tops which carriers typically rent to users as part of their service. The rental fees are out of proportion to hardware’s value, and content can now be managed and protected in software, the FCC said.

The average U.S. cable-TV subscriber pays $231 in set-top box rental fees annually, about $20 billion a year in total. “Since 1994, according to a recent analysis, the cost of cable set-top boxes has risen 185 percent while the cost of computers, televisions and mobile phones has dropped by 90 percent,” the FCC said in a prepared statement, noting nearly all pay-TV subscribers rent set-tops from service providers.

“Today, programming is locked inside the cable-TV set tops, and we want to unlock it and give consumer’s choice among multiple different kinds of systems and apps,” said a senior FCC technologist on a call with the press. “The days of needing a set-top box are over, the requirements of security now also work in software, the same software used to deliver video over the Internet,” he said.

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EE Times.

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