The Federal Communications Commission wants to give cable/satellite consumers the freedom to choose their own programming device, instead of being saddled with their provider’s set-top box, which can cost hundreds of dollars a year in rental fees.
The move by the FCC would make “cable-cutting” easier, and potentially hit the big cable/satellite providers hard. But it’s good news for tech giants, such as Apple, Google and Amazon, because the FCC sees its plan as fostering greater innovation in streaming/programming offerings
On average, consumers pay $231 in rental fees annually for a set-top box. And many American households have more than one, or even one in each bedroom.
“It’s time to unlock the set-top box market — let’s let innovators create, and then let consumers choose,” Tom Wheeler, chairman of the F.C.C., wrote of the proposal on the technology news site Recode.
Altogether, U.S. consumers spend $20 billion a year to lease these devices, the FCC says.
“Ninety-nine percent of pay-TV subscribers are chained to their set-top boxes because cable and satellite operators have locked up the market,” the FCC states in its proposal. “Lack of competition has meant few choices and high prices for consumers…”
The FCC estimates that prices for the devices have jumped 185 percent over 20 years, even as prices for smartphones and other electronics have decreased sharply.
Consumers have already started to take charge of their TV viewing. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have challenged the cable/satellite industry, offering original programming and streaming-video packages that have fueled a “cutting the cable” movement, especially among Millennials. Media companies such as HBO and CBS have also added streaming packages of their own for low monthly fees. Apple, Roku and Google sell cheap, small set-top boxes that can easily run many of these streaming services.
The cable/satellite companies that oppose the proposal contend that they are already providing more streaming options, arguing that the FCC does not need to follow through with its proposal to spur innovation. In November, Time Warner Cable, for example, began a trial offering of its cable television lineup through devices made by Roku.