Citing a lack of competition and innovation in this market, FCC staff said on Wednesday they are considering how to increase online access as part of the agency's national broadband plan.
It's time ... to consider if there are better ways to open the set-top box market to greater competition and innovation, William Lake, FCC's media bureau chief, said at an open meeting.
With limited access to the Internet by all consumers seeking more online content on their television sets, FCC officials are seeking ways to increase the adoption of broadband access to all Americans through mobile and television.
Recommendations on ways to encourage competition and innovation are likely to be included in the broadband plan submitted to Congress in mid-February.
Lake said current rules on cable set-top boxes have failed to spur innovation and competition.
Set-top box innovation is lacking, the FCC said in open meeting materials. Improved boxes could be an important driver of broadband adoption and utilization.
Motorola Inc and Cisco Systems Inc's Scientific-Atlanta are the top makers of set-top boxes.
One of the options the FCC is considering is to require cable and broadband providers such as Comcast Corp, AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc to supply a small, low-cost, network-interface device that would act as a bridge for an Internet modem and cable boxes.
When asked by FCC Commissioner Michael Copps how much new technology would be involved in manufacturing new bridge boxes, Lake said that manufacturers would likely add little new technology.
Many of the standards in place already exist, it would take commission action to drive the effort, he said.
Cable subscribers normally lease set-top boxes to access videos, but FCC officials believe it is basically a one-way street that does not allow customers to do more such as accessing the Internet.
Some retail devices are starting to emerge with built-in applications to access movies through online providers such as TiVo Inc and videos from Google Inc's YouTube.
(Reporting by John Poirier; editing by Andre Grenon and Carol Bishopric)