Several people close to the matter say that late changes to the final draft offered by FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel (D) pushed back the vote.
"We are still working to resolve the remaining technical and legal issues and we are committed to unlocking the set-top box for consumers across this country," said Rosenworcel, along with the FCC's two other Democrats, Mignon Clyburn and chairman Tom Wheeler, in a joint statement.
Policy analysts said that the bottleneck concerned the FCC's potential role in overseeing legal agreements between cable companies and the device manufacturers that would host each cable provider's free app.
"Rosenworcel in particular is a very technically oriented commissioner," said Harold Feld, senior vice president at the consumer group Public Knowledge. "They clearly want to do something, but it's also clear that in her case she's not going to agree to a general shape of something and give editorial privileges to work out the details later. She is going to want to make sure the details are resolved."
How you get your cable TV may be undergoing some historic changes this week.
Under a new set of rules that regulators are expected to approve Thursday, cable companies would have to start providing their shows and movies over free apps that can be installed on any major device platform, such as iOS and Android.
These apps would effectively end the need for TV watchers to rent expensive set-top boxes, whose sole purpose at this point is to display your channel lineup and protect TV content from piracy, but little else. If the rules get approved, they could be a breath of fresh air for consumers who may be tired of paying for those bulky boxes month after month.
The change would make watching cable television a lot more like browsing Netflix. Although some cable channels, such as HBO and Showtime, already offer their own apps so that you can stream their content directly, a cable TV app would give you access to the full range of channels you've subscribed to, all at once.
Even as this makes consuming your cable content easier, it also potentially perpetuates the traditional cable bundle: Instead of being delivered to you through a set-top box, your whole cable tier will be delivered through an app instead. And should the cable-built apps take off, it might be that much more threatening to the stand-alone streaming apps such as HBO Now.
Here's what else we know. Regulators have said the rules will seek to force each cable company's app to be compatible with third-party features such as Apple's Spotlight search function. For example, in an ideal scenario users would be able to pull up the search feature on their devices, type in "The Walking Dead" and have the results include all the places you can get the zombie drama — whether that's on iTunes, Amazon, Netflix or your new app from Comcast.
As with most of these policy discussions, though, the devil is in the details. And the big sticking point appears to be over how cable companies and device manufacturers will get along in this brave new world.
You see, the Federal Communications Commission wants this relationship to be governed by a standard legal agreement between the two sides that lays out the terms. And the agency has said it plans to act if those agreements wind up unfairly benefiting the cable companies; after all, the entire exercise is about effectively ending the cable industry's control over the set-top box. It would defeat the point if the new legal regime simply replaced one form of control with another.
But it's not clear how the FCC would wield this power to intervene. Would it be through a complaint process? A unilateral ability to investigate and punish? This ambiguity, the cable industry claims, could lead to a vast power grab.
"If they could strike and rewrite any part of the app license, it kind of leads to an open door," said one industry official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the proposed rules are still confidential.
Negotiations on what the final rules will look like have been continuing all week long, and appear to be going down to the wire after months of back-and-forth. It's possible the FCC may delay a vote if a compromise can't be reached. And we won't know for sure how the rules will affect consumers and businesses until the full, five-member FCC votes on the measure. But stay tuned — we'll update this when we find out.