A Major Way Cable Companies Cost You Hundreds of Dollars Could Be Ending

May 15th 2016

Danielle DeCourcey

The end of the cable box as we know it could be near.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to rule on Chairman Tom Wheeler's "Unlock the Box" proposal, which would effectively end the cable companies' monopoly on cable box sets.

Why do so many people hate cable boxes?

Currently, if you want to watch the programming offered by your cable provider, you've got to access it through one of their cable box sets, which cost more than $200 per-year to rent.

Consumer Video Choice, a coalition of organizations and companies that support "Unlock the Box," say that it should be easier to watch cable programming.

In its "Unlock the Box" proposal, the FCC wrote that cable watchers should be able to get it how they want it.

"Consumers should be able to choose how they access the Multichannel Video Programming Distributor’s (MVPDs) – cable, satellite or telco companies – video services to which they subscribe. For example, consumers should be able to have the choice of accessing programming through the MVPD-provided interface on a pay-TV set-top box or app, or through devices such as a tablet or smart TV using a competitive app or software."

Here's How "Unlock the Box" could change things.

The proposal would force cable providers to hand over information and content to companies who want to develop cable box alternatives.

Here's the information they'd have to hand over.

1. Information about the cable channels' content including on-demand programming.

2. Information about what devices can do with content, like whether or not a device can record cable content.

3. They have to provide the opportunity for other companies to deliver the video programming.

Answering the call from the White House to open up competition, the FCC hopes this move will force cable companies to be innovative and come up with new cheaper technology.

Basically you'll probably be able to watch cable through Roku, Amazon, Netflix, or Chromecast soon, without renting a box or satellite dish.

A statement on the White House website compares cable companies to old phone companies, which used to require customers to rent telephones in the same way cable customers are now forced to rent cable boxes.

"Millennials are often defined as the generation born after 1980. But they could also be described as the generation that doesn’t remember what it’s like to be forced to rent a big, overpriced, basic phone from the phone company."

The lack of competition in the cable box field probably explains why cable box technology has shown relatively little progress.

Evolution of the Cable Box Image

The "Unlock The Box" campaign is already motivating action.

Comcast released a statement in April after the FCC's proposal saying that it will launch the Xfinity TV Partner Program, which will bring cable to more smart TVs and devices without customers having to rent a set-top box.

They've already partnered with Samsung and Roku, according to The Boston Globe.

Comcast senior vice president Mark Hess wrote in a company statement that because of new plans like this, the FCC's proposal should be squashed.

"In light of the success of the apps-based model in the marketplace, the far-reaching government technical mandate being currently proposed by the FCC is unnecessary."

But "Unlock The Box" isn't going away.

The 60 day period of public comment on the FCC plan ended in late April, and now we're just waiting for a final vote on whether the rules will be put into place.

The Obama administration has also supported other important initiatives to open up competition in media. In 2014 a bill was signed into law that removed carrier switching restrictions in cell phones and the administration also supported the FCC's net neutrality rules.

You can watch the full "Unlock the Box" video from the Consumer Video Choice Coalition below.

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