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The FCC won’t force cable companies to unlock their set-top boxes after all

The cable guys win one, courtesy of a Trump appointee.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Testifies To House Committee On The FCC's Net Neutrality Rule
FCC Chai Ajit Pai (r)
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Looks like the cable guys won’t have to open their boxes after all.

The Federal Communications Commission has essentially dropped a plan that would require pay TV operators to “unlock” their set-top boxes and allow third-party companies to build their own boxes.

New FCC chair Ajit Pai removed the proposal, championed by his predecessor Tom Wheeler, from the FCC’s agenda last week. President Donald Trump appointed Pai to the head of the commission earlier this month.

That doesn’t mean the set-top box rule is officially dead. But since Pai was against the proposal from the startjust like he’s opposed to Wheeler’s net neutrality push — it’s basically pining for the fjords.

Google/Alphabet was the biggest tech name pushing for Wheeler’s proposal, which would have theoretically allowed anyone to create their own version of a set-top box that would sit on top of a pay TV provider’s network. The major pay TV providers, including Comcast*, opposed the rule and would have ended up challenging it in court if it was approved.

It’s worth noting that not everyone in streaming TV tech was clamoring for this. Netflix, for instance, basically shrugged its shoulders on this one. Roku, which makes its own version of a set-top box, wasn’t a fan of the proposal, either.

Meanwhile, the cable guys, prompted in part by Wheeler’s push, have already made it easier to get their stuff on other people’s boxes. Comcast, for instance, lets its subscribers watch live and on-demand TV via iOS and Android apps, with more on the way.

* Comcast’s NBCUniversal is a minority investor in Vox Media, which owns this site.

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