FCC Removes Set-Top Box, Business Data Services From Agenda

(Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

The Federal Communications Commission removed from its list of active proceedings proposed rules on cable set-top boxes and the bulk data connections that telecom companies provide to businesses. The move effectively kills the two measures.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai removed the two items from circulation last week “for further review,” along with other items that were circulated by Pai’s predecessor, Tom Wheeler, that never received a final vote, an FCC official confirmed in an email Monday.

“The items could be put back on circulation following modifications,” the official said, adding that the move is “typical” during a change of administration.

Items on the list are considered pending, and commissioners can vote on them at any time.

The two rules — one aimed at opening up the cable set-top box marketplace by requiring service providers to allow streaming apps for content, and another placing price caps one business data services — were priorities for Wheeler.

The removal of the proposed rules serves as a symbolic beginning of a shift at the agency under Pai, who opposed both of those regulations.

On Jan. 25, Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology called on Pai to close the cable set-top box proceeding altogether, saying they want “to give video programming distributors a clear sign that they can bring technological advances to set-top boxes and video delivery without fear that the Commission overturn them by regulation.”

Price caps in the business data services market have been a priority for Democrats and smaller telecom companies for years. Hospitals, banks, retailers, manufacturers and schools use the lines to send vast amounts of data daily. The market is dominated by big telecom firms like AT&T Inc.

Chip Pickering, chief executive of Incompas, said in a Monday statement that the FCC’s failure to “fix the broken business broadband marketplace” would pose a “serious threat to the infrastructure goals necessary to putting America first in the race for faster, more affordable networks of the future.”

Incompas represents competitive service providers including T-Mobile and Sprint.

Pai’s move gives commissioners the opportunity to make changes to the proposed rules. If they are circulated for a vote at the agency, however, it’s unlikely they will be similar to the proposals put forth during Wheeler’s tenure as chairman. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly (R) also opposed the two proposals removed by Pai.