FCC gives OK to boost TV set-top box competition

Quick quiz… How many TVs do you own and how many different boxes do you have hooked up for watching TV?

There’s certainly a cable or satellite box. Maybe a Roku or Apple TV set-top box so you can watch Netflix and Amazon Prime. And then there’s the Blu-Ray or DVD player and, especially if you have teenage boys, you might have the random Xbox or PlayStation game console around, too. The point is, you might love your TV, but you probably aren’t a big fan of having to have so many different boxes around, and all the remotes that come with them, that make you have to switch back and forth between devices all the time to watch different types of programming.

Well, on Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission, by a vote of 3 to 2, approved a proposal that could give people a little more freedom from the set-top box yoke of the cable and satellite TV providers.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had proposed the rule that would make cable and satellite providers give access to their programming to the makers of other set-top boxes, such as those from Apple and Roku. In effect, the proposal means you could, say, take your Google Chromecast device and be able to get all the programming that you can now only get live from your current TV service provider.

But don’t go throwing out your cable box just yet.

Like almost everything the FCC does, the proposal will now go into a period of public comments, where anyone can weigh in on the matter. There may be some revisions to the proposal, too, and a final vote is at least several months away.

The proposal has the potential to save consumers hundreds of dollars a year in cable box rental and leasing fees. Cable companies will often give one box for free, but charge $10 a month for any additional boxes a consumer needs. If the FCC gets its way, then, theoretically, a consumer could purchase a third-party’s box, get their regular programming, and not have to pay a cable provider a monthly rental equipment fee.

Devices such as Apple TV offer apps that let consumers watch programming from many cable TV networks. However, those often require a pay-TV subscription in order to watch such programs. Some premium networks such as HBO and Showtime have begun offering so-called over-the-top services that let viewers watch their programming without a pay-TV subscription.

Photo: Apple TV device. (BANG archives)


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