FCC delays vote on controversial cable box plan

Here's what it would look like if the FCC changed your cable box
Here's what it would look like if the FCC changed your cable box

The plan to do away with cables box rentals has hit a speed bump.

The Federal Communications Commission has delayed a closely watched vote on a proposal that would require large cable and satellite TV companies to make their content available through free apps.

The vote, originally scheduled to take place on Thursday as part of the commission's monthly meeting, has been postponed indefinitely as the government agency works to iron out details amid intense pushback from cable providers, media companies and politicians.

"We are still working to resolve the remaining technical and legal issues, and we are committed to unlocking the set-top box for consumers across the country," FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said in a joint statement with commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel.

The commission hopes to vote on the issue "within the next couple weeks," but there is "no deadline" set at this point, according to an FCC official who spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to share details.

The FCC proposal promises to finally eliminate the need for consumers to rent a cable box, which costs households an average of $231 a year, according to the FCC.

Instead of paying to rent a box, a Comcast (CCV) subscriber would have the option to stream shows through a Comcast app on their smart TV, tablet, Roku and Apple TV. Pay TV providers would also be forced to make their content searchable through third-party applications, making it easier for users to find where various shows and movies are streaming.

However, the most recent version of the proposal, unveiled earlier this month, angered much of the industry with a provision around licensing.

The FCC's plan would require cable companies to create a new licensing body to establish guidelines for device makers on issues like search and security -- all under the oversight of the FCC.

Related: Google vs. the cable guys: the big fight over the little set-top box in your home

Officials from Time Warner (TWX), Walt Disney (DIS), 21st Century Fox and other media companies held a "series of meetings" with the FCC last week to stress that the agency was overstepping its authority and "should refrain from exercising any and all form of oversight or review" over licensing, according to a filing.

Rosenworcel, a key vote needed to approve the proposal, also expressed concerns about the licensing provision.

The delay comes six months after Wheeler first rattled the cable industry and set off a fury of lobbying with a proposal to make the set-top box market more competitive.

Under that original FCC plan, cable and satellite providers would have been forced to make their raw TV streams available on competing cable devices likely to be built by Google (GOOGL), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL) and others.

The FCC framed the plan as a way to make the cable box market more competitive and eliminate the need for households to spend an unnecessary amount of money leasing the devices.

However, AT&T (T), Comcast and others slammed the first proposal for giving tech companies like Google potentially unfettered access to their programming.

In response, the industry pushed what it called the "Ditch the Box" proposal, which focused on rethinking cable apps rather than cable boxes.

The final FCC proposal adopts the framework of that apps plan, which gives cable companies greater control over how their content appears.

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