Set-top reform '95% dead' at FCC with Trump taking office, analyst says

Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

A highly foreboding piece of regulation for the pay-TV industry just a few months ago, the FCC’s attempt to reform the leased set-top box business appears defeated.

With Donald Trump’s administration taking over the White House in January, House Republicans have asked FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler not to move forward with any “complex and controversial items that the new Congress and Administration will have an interest in reviewing." Wheeler has been asked to keep his focus on completing the incentive auction. 

"I would say it's 95 percent dead," said Matthew Schettenhelm, a government and litigation analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence in Washington, to the Philadelphia Inquirer. "It's a very long road to get this done.” And the analyst made these remarks before the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Communications Subcommittee made their request to Wheeler. 

RELATED: NCTA to Wheeler: Lifting the sunshine prohibitions on set-top proposal not enough

Chris Lewis, vice president with the nonprofit group Public Knowledge, which has backed Wheeler’s plan to open the pay TV set-top business to third-party device makers, also told the paper that it’s too early to call the regulatory gambit finished. 

"We don't know what Trump thinks about set-top boxes," Lewis said.

But even before the shocking election of a far-right presidential candidate, the regulation’s fate appeared uncertain.

In late September, Wheeler pulled a vote off the FCC Commission agenda for a revised version of his proposal, which focused on multiscreen apps created by pay-TV operators that would be accessible to third-party devices. 

Controversial elements of that proposal — specifically, a clause that mandated that the FCC regulate the apps— resulted in Wheeler not having the Commission majority needed to move the proposal forward.

In the ensuing months, the pay-TV industry and various interest groups have lobbied Wheeler to release full details of his plan.

Introducing the plan in January, Wheeler billed it as a rare chance to break up a pay-TV monopoly that he said generates $20 billion out of consumer pockets annually for the pay-TV industry. 

That window of opportunity, however, appears to have closed.