A set-top box (STB) is a standalone hardware component that plugs directly into a television receiver and requires no independent computer system. Set-top boxes can be used for videogames or accessing the Internet via cable modems or direct broadcast satellite systems.
Current and future issues
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 contained provisions designed to stimulate competition and innovation in set-top boxes. Two years later, the FCC, in partnership with industry, developed the CableCARD standard to incentivize competition in the set-top box market. Yet by 2008, two manufacturers shared 92% of the market, up from 87% in 2006. Only 11 set-top boxes have been certified for retail sale, in contrast to the more than 850 unique handsets that were certified to operate on mobile networks in 2009 alone. In addition, 97% of CableCARD-deployed set-top boxes installed between July 2007 and November 2009 were leased from operators rather than purchased at retail.
Set-top boxes are an important part of the broadband ecosystem. An estimated 39 million set-top boxes were shipped in the United States in 2007 and 2008 combined. The lack of innovation in set-top boxes limits what consumers can do and their choices to consume video, and the emergence of new uses and applications. It may also be inhibiting business models that could serve as a powerful driver of adoption and utilization of broadband, such as, models that integrate traditional television and the Internet.
Further innovation in set-top boxes could lead to:
- Greater choice, lower prices and more capability in the boxes, including applications.
- More competition among companies offering video content (MVPDs).
- Unlimited choice in the content available — whether from traditional television (TV) or the Internet — through an integrated user interface.
- More video and broadband applications for the TV, possibly in conjunction with other devices, such as mobile phones and personal computers (PCs).
- Higher broadband utilization.
- Section 629 covers equipment used to receive video programming — including cable set-top boxes, televisions, and DVRs — as well as equipment used to receive other services offered over MVPD systems, including cable modems. See 47 U.S.C. §549 (codifying section 629 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996); Implementation of Section 304 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996; Commercial Availability of Navigation Devices, CS Docket No. 97-80, Report and Order, 13 FCC Rcd 14775 (1998).
- Dell'oro Group Inc., Set-top Box Report 3Q09, at 89 (2009). Combined market shares for the two manufacturers (Motorola and Cisco) were 87% (2006), 86% (2007), and 92% (2008).
- Cf. CableLabs, Certified, Verified and Self-Verified Cable Products. (Aug. 26, 2009) (reporting 11 certified set-top boxes), with Carolina Milanesi et al., Gartner, Inc., Forecast: Mobile Devices, Worldwide, 2003–2013, at tab 2 (Devices) (2009) (calculating 850 wireless devices).
- Letter from Neal M. Goldberg, Vice Pres. and Gen. Counsel, National Cable & Telecommunications Ass'n, to Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary, FCC, CS Docket No. 97-80 (Dec. 22, 2009) at 1 (presenting report detailing CableCARD deployment and support).
- ell'oro Group Inc., Set-top Box Report 3Q09, at 89 (2009).