PhotoThe Mozilla Foundation, developer of the Firefox browser, has thrown its support behind the notion that consumers should not have to rent a set-top cable box to watch TV and streaming video.

The Federal Communications Commission is weighing proposed regulations that would allow companies other than cable and satellite providers to develop boxes that can access pay-TV programs, which would make life simpler for viewers and save consumers millions of dollars in the monthly set-top box rentals they now pay to cable and satellite providers.

"We believe the proposed rules will help open a technology environment that today is very closed, with the result of improved competition, greater innovation, and streamlined interoperability, all to the benefit of consumers," Mozilla's public policy head Chris Riley wrote in a letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission this week.

The proposal is generally supported by technology companies and opposed by cable and broadcast interests, including producers who fear their property will become more vulnerable to being stolen (i.e., viewed for free).

Copyright Office stance

The U.S. Copyright Office is backing producers in opposing the proposal, saying it could nterfere with content owners' ability to license programs and to "impose reasonable conditions" on how those programs are used.

Advertisers also oppose the proposal, saying that eliminating the control cable and pay-TV providers now enjoy could make it possible for rogue elements to insert new commercials or even replace existing ones.

In the long run, the proposed rule could destroy the economic underpinnings of the entertainment business, critics say. They point to the widespread failure of daily newspapers and the havoc wrought in the music business by the introduction of technology that broke traditional distribution channels. 

Mozilla takes a dim view of that argument, saying the Copyright Office's views "take us down a dangerous road."

"At worst, the rules conflict with only the most maximalist copyright policy views, those that would stretch statutory interpretation and precedent to allow for indefinite downstream control by rightsholders, impeding the development of new technologies and harming consumers," Riley said, according to a MediaPost article. "Copyright law confers a set number of rights to rightsholders, and is not meant to convey total control.

Consumer groups generally support opening the set-top market to competition, saying that consumers now pay an average cost of $231 per year to rent boxes that basically do the same thing as a Roku or Amazon Fire TV box. 

Cable compromise

The cable industry has offered a compromise proposal, suggesting cable companies supply their subscribers with an app that would receive not only their regular cable packages but also Netflix-style streaming video that is now viewed with a Roku-style box.

The app would use open HTML5 standards, which would enable manufacturers to adopt it quickly without jumping through the hoops tht accompany proprietary technology.

"This approach would provide significant benefits to consumers," the industry officials argued in a regulatory, according to Washington Post report in June.

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