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FCC takes on cable, satellite on television set-top boxes

The box on top of your television may be holding back broadband.

That’s according to the small army of people at the Federal Communications Commission charged with figuring out how to roll out high-speed Internet to every home, make it affordable and get people to subscribe.

Here’s why they think the television set-top box is hindering broadband use: there aren’t enough of them to choose from.

The majority of users rent their boxes from their cable or satellite provider. And there isn't enough innovation on the limited number of devices they get from their provider, nor are the providers adequately dealing with access to online video, the FCC’s national broadband planning task force said in an agency meeting Wednesday.

“The marketplace is searching for better ways to connect the Internet more fully to television sets,” said Bill Lake, the FCC's media bureau chief.

The role of the set-top box was discussed as part of a larger presentation on hurdles to the agency’s national broadband goals.

Other challenges include broadcasters and the wireless sector, which are already fighting over the use of spectrum that could aid in any rollout. Rural phone carriers, meanwhile, are decrying reforms to a much-criticized federal fund that could take away money they use to deliver phone service.

Please take a look at my story late Tuesday on the other problems addressed. Here is the agency’s outline of Levin’s presentation.

Interestingly, Lake compared set-top boxes to wireless phones and other devices for mobile networks.

He said there was about 14 set top boxes to choose from compared to the 900 or so devices being manufactured for wireless networks.

“The 1996 Act fostered innovation of set-top boxes, but that market has failed to materialize,” Lake said. “Data suggests this has not fostered innovation and a variety of boxes.”

How does this connect to the adoption of broadband? If nearly every home in America has a television set, the FCC believes the living room tube can be used to drive broadband use. And a key to that is to have more innovative to cable, satellite and other television boxes (like Tivo), that bring a full Web experience to the television.

“We know that the television will increasingly become a device for Internet access. So the issue raised today is, can the presence of TVs in everyone’s home help … people who don’t have broadband for those who don’t have computers,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a press conference after the meeting.

By Cecilia Kang  |  November 18, 2009; 1:00 PM ET
 
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Comments

Of course, there is no innovation or widespread consumer choices. The cable companies want it that way. They can control the pipes. They can charge the consumer whatever they want for the rent of the box. And they have the Congress in their pocket.

No news there.

Posted by: obss | November 19, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

I like your writing , choice of subject and the level of knowledge you show you have. You are a fresh voice that I follow and have often replaced Pegoraro in interest. Brian Krebs is someone else whom I faithfully read.
Please reread your copy before submittal.

It's painful reading the tenth paragraph----
He said there ([was ? sic] should read are) about 14 set top boxes...
Unfortunately in the last 20-30 years more of these errors have been tolerated. Please shine by being one of those who writes so clearly and lucidly that your meaning cannot possibly be misconstrued.If it sounds wrong it probably is. Give Patricia O'Connor's Woe is I the once over. It is funny and useful. Garrison Keillor loves it.
New subject:
I won't ever forget my cousin from rural Montana being sent a bill for $1000 for 1 months use of 1 land line. He refused to pay it and bought a cell phone the same day.
When I read and hear about South Koreans and Japanese citizens paying about $25.00 per month for a phone and internet connection [about 27 megabits/second download speed] I want to know how they do it. If they can do it we ought to have done so before them.
We need to tell all big business where to get off. We've got to end the monopoly that money has on government. Communications companies are a good place to start. I hope that you will be telling us of a FCC that is technically competent and fair to the citizens for a change.

Posted by: vabear | November 19, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

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