The FCC’s plan to kill the cable box just hit a roadblock

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday announced that it is delaying its vote on a proposal that would require pay-TV providers to make their programming available through free apps, effectively ending the need to rent a cable box.

The vote was originally planned for Thursday, but a joint statement from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel said that the group is “still working to resolve the remaining technical and legal issues” with the proposal.

In an email, FCC Secretary Kim Hart did not provide any timeline for when a vote might take place. For now, the measure will go on the FCC’s circulation list, where it will “remain under consideration” by the Commissioners.

The delay is just the latest hurdle in Wheeler’s ongoing attempt to upend the set-top box market.

Back in February, the FCC originally proposed a measure that would have required cable and satellite TV companies to give their programming information to third-party streaming device makers like Roku, Apple, or Google. Those device makers would then be able to present pay-TV content on their boxes through their own user interfaces.

Comcast Cable Box

That didn’t go over well with the pay-TV industry, naturally, and earlier this month the Commission presented the revised proposal that’s in question today, which significantly walks back portions of the original plan to comply with the pay-TV industry’s concerns over copyright protections and licensing arrangements. Cable and satellite companies would now have complete control over the apps they provide to streaming platforms, but they’d still have to provide them in the first place, which would theoretically cut into the billions of dollars they generate in set-top box rental fees each year.

The proposal calls for pay-TV providers and programmers to create a standard licence that would specify the terms of how all this would work. It also gives the FCC veto power over any decision from that board that it doesn’t find to work within its rules.

It’s this bit that’s resulted in the most pushback from cable companies, along with concerns from Democrat Rosenworcel, who is widely seen as holding the swing vote among the five-person Commission. Those concerns now appear to have been strong enough to keep Wheeler’s plan from coming through as it is now.

Whatever the case, the cable industry can breathe a sigh of relief, while those hoping to get full-on cable over the internet will have to wait a little while longer.