Bernie Sanders joins Congressional battle against '$20 billion' pay-TV set-top market

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has joined the Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to champion retail competition for pay-TV set-tops.

Sanders' name was added to a letter sent Monday to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, with the lawmakers continuing to condemn what they say are $232 in annual set-top licensing fees paid by the average pay-TV consumer. 

"According to information received from the top 10 multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs)," the letter said, "these providers annually charge consumers nearly $20 billion in rental fees for set-top boxes."

The rhetoric isn't new -- Markey and Blumenthal have been messaging the same dollar figures since July, when they published findings based on query responses from top pay-TV operators. 

With operators like Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) citing "competitive sensitivity," those responses weren't always replete with information. But staffs for Blumenthal and Markey somehow pieced together a $20 billion aggregate revenue figure based on the information they did have. 

There doesn't appear to be any effort to determine the total capital expenditure cost incurred by operators to obtain these set-tops. Neal Goldberg, general counsel for cable-industry lobbying org the National Cable Telecommunications Association (NCTA) told FierceCable in September that his group was reluctant to engage the lawmakers a "war with numbers," given that there were only two U.S. Senators -- Markey and Blumenthal -- griping about the set-top issue. 

But Sanders' inclusion is an indicator that the movement is growing. 

And the letter was also signed by Sens. Al Franken, Ron Wyden, Cory Booker, Maria Cantwell and Elizabeth Warren. 

For its part, the NCTA continues to focus its attention on the FCC's Downloadable Security Technology Advisory Committee (DSTAC), which was set up to find a new technology that would enable set-tops sold at retail by consumer electronics companies to function in the pay-TV ecosystem.

Issuing reply comments to DSTAC proposals Tuesday, the NCTA continues to oppose one specific proposed solution, AllVid, which would use an intermediary device to decode pay-TV signals to work with retail devices. The NCTA re-stated its position that TV Everywhere apps currently supplied by pay-TV operators and programming partners already do the job of including retail devices in the pay-TV sphere.

"Contrary to misinformation advanced by AllVid proponents, apps provide a recordable output, add download-to-go for mobile devices and provide recordability via cloud-based DVRs," the NCTA said. "Apps even map a path for eliminating the set-top box (and set-top box rentals) altogether."

For more:
- read this letter to the FCC from Sen. Edward Markey

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DSTAC, CableCard, pay-TV apps and the future of the cable industry's $20B set-top business
NCTA, pay-TV lawyers meet with FCC, try to shoot down tech industry's AllVid push
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