FCC votes to give customers more set-top box choice

The FCC wants to fuel more competition in the cable market, allowing customers more set-top box choice. This could allow customers to buy set-top boxes that support Internet streaming directly from a cable company.
Written by Jake Smith, Contributor

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted in favor of a landmark ruling on Thursday that will give customers more choice in the set-top box used to watch their cable TV subscription.

The five-member commission voted 3-2, with Chairman Tom Wheeler and fellow Democrats Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel voting in favor of the proposal, while Republicans Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly voted against.

The vote doesn't automatically put into place new rules from the FCC, but it begins policy hearings before a final vote at the end of the year.

Essentially, the FCC wants to make buying a set-top box like buying a modem for your Internet. You will be able to choose the hardware manufacturer and what features are included. In the cable television space, companies lock users into hardware that isn't as feature rich as some competitors.

"Today, there is limited competition in set-top boxes. When competition exists, prices go down and innovation goes up," Chairman Wheeler tweeted.

According to the FCC, customers in the US spend $20 billion per year in leasing fees for set-top boxes, costing $231 per household, per year. The regulatory body wrote in a January press release: "the cost of cable set-top boxes has risen 185 percent while the cost of computers, televisions and mobile phones has dropped by 90 percent" since 1994.

Wheeler proposes cable companies will have two-years to comply, according to ArsTechnica.

"More choices for innovative ways to access the programming they pay for on the device or app they prefer. Just as consumers shop at retail for a smart phone today, and they can choose to purchase a wireless router instead of leasing one from their provider, consumers will have the same choice to use a competitive device with a third-party app if they choose." chairman Wheeler wrote in his January proposal.

The Future of TV coalition responded: "The massive outpouring of opposition to this costly and destructive rule from members of congress, the creative community, TV distributors, and public advocates reflects a basic truth: the rules under consideration will drive up consumer costs, hurt programmers (and most especially small and diversity programming), and blow a gaping hole in Congressional protections for our TV privacy - all for an unnecessary government giveaway to Big Tech. In short, this rule does not make sense."

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