FCC needs more time to make its set-top box rules a reality

Technical and legal issues are holding up the plan to "Unlock the Box."

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Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler floated a plan to get cable companies to drop locked-down set-top boxes in favor of apps that customers could download to their device of choice. The proposed rules also included a much needed universal search function that would allow customers to browse programming options from their cable provider as well as streaming sources like Hulu and Netflix. While it seemed that both the FCC and cable companies were on board with Wheeler's compromise plan, today's scheduled vote on the new rules has been delayed indefinitely.

Even with the vote tabled for now, a statement from Chairman Wheeler and two other commissioners said the proposal has made "tremendous progress" towards eliminating costly set-top boxes. "We share the goal of creating a more innovative and inexpensive market for these consumer devices," the statement said. "We are still working to resolve the remaining technical and legal issues and we are committed to unlocking the set-top box for consumers across this country."

So: the delay does not spell doom for our dreams of a cleaner home entertainment system, one free from the tyranny of clunky cable box interfaces -- we'll just have to wait a little longer to get there. The Commission notes that the proposal will remain under consideration while the commissioners work out these technical and legal issues.

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