Updated: Comcast Xfinity Program Cited in Set-Top Dust-Up

Comcast and NCTA were using the ISP's just-announced expansion of the IP-enabled retail devices that can be used to access its Xfinity TV as an example of why the FCC does not need to disaggregate set-top content by force to spur navigation device competition. An FCC official suggested that was off base.

The announcement comes as the FCC is collecting comment on the controversial proposal and cable and other ISPs are pushing back hard and suggesting a legal fight is in the offing.

In a blog post about the launch of the Xfinity TV Partner Program, Mark Hess, senior VP, Office of the Chief Technology Officer at Comcast, said Comcast apps have already been downloaded 23 million times to a variety of retail devices.

"In light of the success of the apps-based model in the marketplace," he said, "the far-reaching government technical mandate being currently proposed by the FCC is unnecessary. The FCC’s proposed set-top box mandate threatens to undermine this highly-dynamic marketplace, create substantial costs and consumer harms, and will take years to develop – only to be likely outdated by the time it reaches the marketplace – all in an effort to achieve what apps are already delivering for consumers."

National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell, no fan of the set-top proposal, was ready with a rapid response to the announcement by Comcast—NCTA's largest member—that also tied it to the FCC.

“Today’s announcements by Comcast, Roku and Samsung demonstrate how innovative marketplace solutions are enabling consumers to enjoy their favorite pay TV programming on a growing variety of retail devices without the need for a traditional set-top box," he said in a statement. "These exciting developments show how technology and television are enriching the consumer experience while protecting copyright, consumer privacy and other important elements that make America the world’s entertainment leader. Instead of rushing forward with a regulatory proceeding that will upset a marketplace that is undergoing such a dramatic transformation and achieving the goals that it seeks, the FCC should study these developments and reconsider the path it appears to be on."

The FCC, or at least the three Democrats, voted to propose "unlocking" set-tops, and the President last week added his voice to the choir.

"If the FCC’s set-top box proceeding is truly just about freeing consumers from monthly box fees, today’s announcement underscores how absurd the arguments for government intervention are," said the Future of TV Coalition, which was launched by cable and other ISPs to fight the set-top proposal. "Apps, not federal box mandates, are the fastest and most effective way to expand consumers’ options for video devices.

“While we do not know all of the details of this announcement," said an FCC official who spoke not for attribution, "it appears to offer only a proprietary, Comcast-controlled user interface and seems to allow only Comcast content on different devices, rather than allowing those devices to integrate or search across Comcast content as well as other content consumers subscribe to.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.