Lawmakers Say Lock That Box

Mari Silbey
MariNation
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video
1/27/2017



Set-top regulation was effectively dead the minute Donald Trump was elected to the presidency. But just in case anyone had any lingering doubts, members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce have written a letter asking newly minted FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to close the docket on the proceeding once known as Unlock the Box.

I've been pretty clear on my own feelings about the set-top regulation mess. As I said last September, it would have been nice if someone had legally defined video streams early on as separate from every other part of a pay-TV service, including the user interface, advertising deals and features like social media integration. While pay-TV providers want to be more than just the conduit for video content, it would be ideal for consumers if any third party could build its own user experience around the pay-TV bundle. (See FCC's New Pay-TV Plan: Shove It Up Your App.)

That said, it seems evident that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was fighting a losing battle on this one. Video content is tangled up with other pay-TV features, and untangling it is messy. The FCC could have mandated one of several approaches for disentangling the two, but the result would have been industry uproar and likely some serious obstructionism in the implementation phase. (Hint: remember CableCARD.)


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So was the whole Unlock the Box effort a waste of time?

Way back in 2015, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s Milo Medin said that even without a compromise solution he thought the regulatory process "was worthwhile if it catalyzes some definition of the problem." (See DSTAC: 2 Opposing Views on the Future of TV.)

I'd go a step further and say it was worthwhile if for no other reason than that it opened up some discussions to the public that would otherwise have only happened behind closed doors. At the end of the day, that's a big part of what regulatory oversight is about. Oversight and open discussion are not just intended as a way to react to market activities, but as a way to make companies think twice about overstepping reasonable boundaries in the future.

And as a reporter, I'm certainly in favor of gaining access to more information. Even if many companies would prefer I didn't.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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