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GAO: Experts Say Set-Top Regulations Aren’t Needed

WASHINGTON — A new Government Accountability Office report concludes that the FCC conducted limited analysis of the need for set-top box regulations before proposing some, and that most experts and stakeholders it consulted for the report “said that further regulations for this purpose were not needed, given recent changes in the video content market.”

That pretty much squares with the view of the current Federal Communications Commission chair, Republican Ajit Pai, who is unlikely to exhume a previous effort to unbundle cable channels for easier online access.

Related: Pai Pulls Set-Top Proposal

Nineteen of 35 experts the GAO turned to found further regulation of set-top devices was not needed. Eight said they were needed, and the rest provided “uncertain” responses or did not comment, per the GAO.

Widespread changes in the video market in recent years have expanded consumers’ choices of video services as well as devices to access those services, the report noted, something the FCC would be well served studying in a “comprehensive analysis,” the GAO said.

Pai pushed back on efforts by his predecessor, Tom Wheeler, to impose new regulations on set-tops. That effort, which drew widespread protest from programming providers and others worried about the impact of government interference with carriage contracts, eventually failed when Wheeler could not secure three Democratic votes. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel had issues with the regulations’ impact on content protections.

Read More: Complete coverage of the Tom Wheeler FCC's proposed set-top rules

The GAO study was based on research data, interviews with the 35 stakeholders who filed comments with the FCC (12 MVPDs, five video content producers, three device manufacturers and 12 industry associations among them), as well as with 11 industry analysts and experts identifed in news coverage.