Monday, April 25, 2016

Set Top Box Death Watch—Are You Kidding?


            A new rationale has appeared on the media landscape explaining that the FCC needn’t bother trying to promote set top box competition, because these devices will soon disappear. Who knew?  Apparently not Comcast which has spent much time, money and effort promoting its new and costly X1 box, nor other incumbents who have attempted to explain how they need a perpetual monopoly. 

            So let me get this straight.  The cable industry has done nothing to promote set top box competition, yet even with outright opposition to an unfettered marketplace the requirement to install and use a cable-company supplied box will evaporate soon.

            This does not pass the smell test, particularly in light of the cable industry's concerted efforts to block competition, to thwart next generation “cable-ready” television sets and to tout as an adequate solution a sorry performing CableCard technology that prevents many value adding features from functioning, including electronic programming guide navigation.

            Around and around the spin goes, unwittingly promoted by newspapers who should know better than to publish undisclosed, sponsored research.  In my capacity as telecom and Internet researcher, I make a point to read anything and everything, including blatantly wrong and obviously sponsored advocacy masquerading as “research.”

            Let’s be clear: the cable industry wants to milk its set top box monopoly for as long as possible.  Had the FCC not acted—in the waning days of the Obama Administration—no one would have attempted to dislodge the status quo.  Comcast would not have embraced Roku and a nominal set top box alternative and you wouldn’t see bogus explanations why the set top box monopoly does not exist.

            Speaking of alternatives, incumbents point to Internet Protocol Television as proof positive that consumers have plenty of substitutes to mandatory set top box access to video content.  Ah yes, another half-truth: there are video access options, like Hulu, but there are no alternatives to set top box access to cable television supplied content.  It’s quite glib and wrong to equate Hulu’s relatively limited inventory as the functional equivalent to that available via cable television.  Certainly the cable industry makes that argument in justifying its substantially higher monthly rates, but of course you aren’t supposed to remember that bit of self-congratulations in the context of the set top box debate.

            Readers: follow your noses, trust your instincts and check your wallet.  The disinformation swirling around you on the matter of set top box competition is designed to confuse and obfuscate.  Can there be any basis for thinking a single rental option offers consumers a better value proposition than competitive access to multiple boxes, like that becoming available for IPTV?  Have you looked at your year-over-year set top box rental costs?

            By why believe me?  I have no advocates, agents and publicists touting my work and securing placement in major papers.  I simply follow my nose, common sense and the money trail without sponsorship of course.

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