WASHINGTON, Feb. 18, 2016 – Will consumers soon be able to purchase their own set-top cable TV boxes instead of being forced to rent them—at high monthly fees—from their cable providers?
Several sources report Thursday that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved, by a 3-2 vote, a proposal to phase out the prevailing, pricey, consumer-hostile set-top box regime, allowing consumers to shop for and purchase their own devices.
The measure passed in a 3-2 vote Thursday.
“Technology allows it, the industry at one time proposed something similar to it and the consumers deserve a break and a choice,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, according to Clarece Polke of Reuters.
Wheeler also is likely to propose an open standard for set-top boxes, doing away with the kind of product specificity that essentially forces consumers into renting only the cable provider’s “approved” devices.
It’s likely that many, if not a majority of cable TV consumers don’t look at the per-item breakdowns in their monthly cable bill where the monthly set-top rental fee—generally around $7.50 and up—is (or should be) clearly listed. But, notes an NPR report “… a congressional study found that cable subscribers pay an average of $231 a year to rent their cable boxes.
According to NPR, “Wheeler thinks it’s fine if people decide they want to rent. But maybe, he told Variety, giving users a choice would make cable companies build a better box.”
The FCC chair noted he’d prefer cable providers to say to consumers “You want to pay me for my interface, because it does all of these things nobody else does,” rather than “You must pay me” for the box I’m selling, which is the only one that will work.
Cable providers are lining up to protest and will likely advance the usual arguments that competing boxes are expensive (some are, but not all) and that extra costs help subsidize small, minority and specialized cable channels that cable providers might not otherwise carry.
But with the increasing proliferation of cable channels that few people ever watch, as well as the development of streaming services that are fast becoming a more affordable alternative to expensive monthly cable bills, the cable industry’s protests are fast-becoming less convincing. As a result, consumers have been “cutting the cord” in ever-increasing numbers.
Even if a new FCC rule or an act of Congress ends up changing the current set-top box situation, however, it will likely be quite some time before consumers will be able to experience a different, and possibly more competitive, cable TV and set-top box landscape.