FCC Cracks Down on Video Streaming Boxes

Agency's Enforcement Bureau takes aim at the marketing and distribution of boxes deemed out-of-compliance with FCC's technical requirements and follows earlier efforts to clamp down on devices used for video piracy.

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

April 18, 2019

3 Min Read
FCC Cracks Down on Video Streaming Boxes

The FCC's Enforcement Bureau is taking aim at video set-top boxes, including those that stream content from the Internet, over growing concerns about models being marketed and distributed that don't meet Commission requirements.

In an Enforcement Advisory posted earlier this month , the Bureau noted that it has observed an increase in the marketing of out-of-compliant boxes. The agency has yet to provide a list of models that are allegedly out-of-scope, but stressed that any companies marketing or operating non-compliant devices should "stop immediately."

Those that don't halt the marketing of such devices could face financial penalties of almost $20,000 per day for new violations and up to $147,290 for an ongoing violation, the FCC's Enforcement Bureau said.

The advisory centers on technical rules around the manufacturing, import, sale and shipment and use of devices that are capable of emitting RF energy, including those that use WiFi transmitters. Those devices must pass certification testing at the FCC to ensure they don't cause interference, obtain and display proper FCC labeling and their FCC Identifier number, and include user manual disclosures on how to mitigate interference issues.

Though the FCC did not provide a list of allegedly offending models and what companies were put on notice, most retail TV-connected streaming boxes on the market today do integrate WiFi radios. So do some of the newer video set-tops and client devices developed and distributed by MVPDs, such as the Xi5 and Xi6 clients for Comcast's X1 platform. The FCC's Equipment Authorization Search (EAS) database can be used to verify if a product has been granted the agency's certification.

Links to piracy-focused efforts
This most recent advisory follows other actions that the FCC has undertaken to clamp down on out-of-compliance devices that could be used to deliver pirated content.

Last May, FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly issued a letter to eBay CEO Devin Wenig and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos regarding concerns about set-top boxes being sold that either fail to comply with FCC equipment authorization requirements or falsely use FCC branding on their devices.

"Disturbingly, some rogue set-top box manufacturers and distributors are exploiting the FCC's trusted logo by fraudulently placing it on devices that have not been approved via the Commission's equipment authorization process," O'Rielly wrote.

At the time, he said nine set-top box makers were referred to the FCC in October 2017 for enabling the unlawful streaming of copyrighted material, of which seven displayed the FCC logo, despite there being no record that they were in compliance. O'Rielly asked both eBay and Amazon to assist with the swift removal of out-of-compliance boxes from their digital sales channels.

"[W]e've had very constructive conversations in which Amazon indicated their interest in combating this problem and that they found our letter to be helpful in providing some extra backing as they continue to deal with bad actor merchants," an FCC official said in an emailed response to questions about the request made of Amazon and eBay.

In the meantime, the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), a legal coalition that includes Amazon among its backers, has had some success targeting companies alleged to have distributed streaming devices, including "fully-loaded" Kodi boxes, that provide access to unauthorized copyrighted TV packages, TV shows, movies and other premium content.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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