• FCC Chairman Wheeler interested in ‘constructive dialogue’
  • Google sees merit in proposal from AT&T and cable companies

The Federal Communications Commission is considering changes to Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to break cable companies’ hold on the set-top box market, following a joint counteroffer from cable providers and AT&T Inc., and a nod from their rival Google.

“Chairman Wheeler has repeatedly said he is interested in a constructive dialogue,” Kim Hart, an FCC spokeswoman, said in an e-mail Wednesday. “He welcomes the feedback to his proposal to give consumers new options for accessing the content they pay for, and he looks forward to engaging in continued conversations to inform the final rules.”

Alphabet Inc.’s Google, an early backer of Wheeler’s White House-backed proposal to give households alternatives to the cable box, in a statement Tuesday called the cable-AT&T proposal a “constructive effort.” The National Cable & Telecommunications Association trade group and DirecTV owner AT&T in meetings last week with FCC officials offered to let subscribers watch shows on third-party devices through internet apps that conform to an industrywide standard, according to filings.

$231 to Rent

The FCC proposal advanced on an initial vote in February, with Wheeler saying subscribers “essentially have no choices” but to pay $231 yearly to rent boxes from cable and satellite TV providers. The FCC said it wants to pave the way for new software and devices, and the White House called the proposal a step to save families money.

AT&T and cable providers led by Comcast Corp. decried what they called a technology mandate that would force them to give away valuable programming to Google and other competitors, who could strip shows out of program bundles and surround them with advertisements. Hollywood studios said the loss of control over shows would facilitate piracy. 

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a member of the Democratic majority whose vote Wheeler likely needs to pass the measure, said in an e-mailed statement Wednesday that the “the original proposal has real flaws.”

“We need to find another way forward,” Rosenworcel said. “So I’m glad that efforts are underway to hash out alternatives to provide consumers with more choice and more competition at lower cost.”

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