The Federal Government Might Help Lower Your Cable Bill

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The FCC has taken a big step toward increasing options for pay-TV customers who rent set-top boxes.

The federal government has taken a big step toward increasing options for pay-TV customers who rent set-top boxes.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to approve an “unlock the box” proposal to establish rules that would pave the way for alternatives to renting set-top boxes from cable or satellite TV providers.

The move is intended to spur innovative devices and software “to compete with the set-top boxes that a majority of consumers lease from pay-TV providers today,” the FCC explains in a news release issued Thursday. “Lack of competition has meant few choices and high prices for consumers.”

For example, pay-TV subscribers with alternative devices like Apple TV or TiVo might be able to choose to access pay-TV signals via those alternative devices instead of via a rented set-top box.

According to the FCC:

  • 99 percent of pay-TV subscribers have limited choices and lease set-top boxes from their cable or satellite providers.
  • The average American household pays $231 per year in set-top box rental fees.
  • American consumers collectively spend $20 billion per year to lease set-top boxes.
  • Since 1994, the cost of set-top boxes has increased by 185 percent, while the cost of computers, TVs and mobile phones has decreased by 90 percent.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says in a Bloomberg Business report:

“Consumers deserve a break and a choice. The issue is whether you are forced to rent that box every month, after month, after month.”

Thursday’s vote kicks off a months-long period during which the FCC will take public comments on setting standards for competing devices and software, Bloomberg reports.

Pay-TV providers are already speaking out against the FCC’s vote, however.

A Comcast blog post published Thursday, for example, describes the FCC’s proposal as “an unbalanced notice seemingly predestined to lead to a new, anti-consumer government technology mandate on video set-top boxes.”

What’s your take? Do you consider the FCC’s proposal pro- or anti-consumer? Share your thoughts with us by commenting below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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