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Obama throws support behind cable box competition

WASHINGTON, April 15 (UPI) — President Barack Obama called on the FCC to open cable television boxes to competition and issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to examine steps that would promote cable television set-top box competition.

Obama, in the order, gave federal agencies 60 days to come up with specific areas that hinder competition in the industry and expand consumer choice. The White House said the effort is akin to work in the 1980s that freed consumers from mandatory landline phone rentals for service.

“This will allow for companies to create new, innovative, higher-quality, lower-cost product,” the White House said. “Instead of spending nearly $1,000 over four years to lease a set of behind-the-times boxes, American families will have options to own a device for much less money that will integrate everything they want — including their cable or satellite content, as well as online streaming apps — in one, easier-to-use gadget.”

In February, the Federal Communications Commission voted to move forward with a proposal that could allow consumers to go through third parties for their set-top box systems, also called cable boxes or digital converters. The move was widely opposed by the cable and satellite television industries.

Michael Powell, head of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, said Friday there are a number of concerns over the FCC’s proposed set-top box mandate, “including copyright harms, damage to minority programmers, consumer loss of privacy protections and unnecessary costs to re-engineer networks.”

“We are disappointed that White House political advisers are choosing to inject politics and inflammatory rhetoric into a regulatory proceeding by what is supposed to be an independent agency,” he said. “Consumers and regulated companies have the right to expect decisions affecting their businesses are made based on sound analysis of the record and not the political interests of the executive branch.”

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