Cable industry offers alternate plan to FCC's 'unlocked' set-top boxes

Back in January, the FCC came up with a plan to reform the US's cable TV industry by "unlocking" set-top boxes, in turn allowing consumers to use devices from other companies or receive content from multiple providers. The goal is to both open the market to competitors, as well as give consumers more choices in how they browse content. The cable industry, unsurprisingly, didn't like this idea, and now, several months later, has proposed their own idea for reform.

The counter offer was presented this week at meetings with the FCC, with representatives from Comcast, AT&T/DirecTV, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), and more in attendance.

The first part of the cable companies' plan involves ditching set-top boxes altogether, freeing customers from having to lease equipment, and saving money in the process. This aspect is sure to please the FCC, but cable companies' prime interest is in maintaining things like DRM and advertising channels.

Replacing set-top boxes would be HTML5-based apps that could run on a range of devices, including smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs. These apps would be free and simple to implement for device manufacturers, and would offer universal search features that access not only the cable provider's content, but streaming services like Netflix as well.

The idea is that this universal search would be beneficial and easy to use for customers, but with the apps being developed by cable companies, they can still use their own user interface, menus, and channel lineups in order to control advertising and prevent piracy.

There's still a lot of work to be done before the plan gets final approval, but the FCC said that it was pleased that the cable industry is willing to cooperate on reform, and that its "adopted the primary goal of our proposal, to promote greater competition and choice for consumers."