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FCC Seeks To Create Set-Top Box Competition

December 17, 2009

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is looking at ways to allow Internet access through set-top boxes for television sets, reported Reuters.

With competition and innovation sorely missing in this market, the FCC staff said on Wednesday they are considering ways of increasing Internet access as part of its agency’s national broadband plan.

“It’s time … to consider if there are better ways to open the set-top box market to greater competition and innovation,” William Lake, FCC’s media bureau chief, said at an open meeting.

Consumers are viewing more and more online content through their television sets, but with limited Internet access. Now, FCC officials are finding ways to promote the use of broadband access to all Americans through both mobile and television.

In mid-February, the FCC will be submitting a broadband plan to Congress that will likely include a laundry list of recommendations on how to encourage competition and innovation.

According to Lake, the rules about cable set-top boxes currently in place have yet to succeed in promoting innovation and competition.

“Set-top box innovation is lacking,” the FCC said. “Improved boxes could be an important driver of broadband adoption and utilization.”

As of now, Motorola Inc and Cisco Systems Inc’s Scientific-Atlanta are the leading makers of set-top boxes.

One of the many options being considered by the FCC is to require cable and broadband providers such as Comcast Corp, AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc to provide a small, low-cost, network-interface device that would serve as a bridge for an Internet modem and cable boxes.

Lake told FCC Commissioner Michael Copps that very little new technology would be needed to manufacture the bridge boxes.

“Many of the standards in place already exist, it would take commission action to drive the effort,” he said.

Though cable subscribers typically lease set-top boxes to access videos, FCC officials see this as a mere “one-way” street that does not give customers the option of accessing the Internet.

Providers including TiVo Inc and Google Inc’s YouTube have begun to come out with built-in applications to view movies.

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