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Senators Raise Rural Concerns With Set-top Box Regulation

Randy Sukow / May 31, 2016

There has been plenty of controversy surrounding the FCC’s proposal earlier this year to set regulations on cable and satellite TV set-top boxes (STBs). Chairman Tom Wheeler claims that video providers have “chained” subscribers to the channel navigator devices of their choice. Consumers should have the same ability to choose their own STBs just as they do for telephones. Cable and satellite companies tend to believe the FCC’s proposed fixes are overly complex and will not work.

Now there is a rural angle to the issue as well. Last week, 10 senators wrote to the FCC asking it to put STB reform on hold. “While we appreciate your commitment to protecting consumers, we urge you to delay the video navigation device proceedings until the FCC sufficiently studies the specific costs and impacts of the proposal on rural consumers and small providers,” said Senators Steve Daines (R-MT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Dan Sullivan (R-AR), Robert Casey (D-PA), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and Dean Heller (R-NV).

The plan the FCC proposes for opening boxes to third-party video providers will require costly changes to network architecture that rural providers cannot afford, they said. And, the proposed rules could harm rural providers even if the FCC gave them an exemption. “When equipment suppliers, programmers, and other vendors are compelled to meet a new standard, it often leaves small operators with no alternative choice but to comply. Moreover, they are often left with the highest costs and the least support,” the senators said.

Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, The Rural Broadband Association, praised the senators’ letter, noting that 60 members of the House of Representatives have made similar statements.

“The cost of implementing the Commission’s set-top box proposal could devastate the video business in rural areas, where many consumers do not receive an over-the-air signal and many small, rural providers already struggle mightily with the costs of delivering video services,” she said. “We hope the Commission will take heed of the strong bipartisan message sent by Congress and reassess the real impacts before proceeding with any rule.”

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