You know that lovely piece of equipment that sits on or around your television? The one that lets you get all of those channels that you pay for but don’t watch? That same piece of equipment that was given to you by your cable company and that they charge you some $20 a month to rent from them? Well, if the Federal Communications Commission gets its way—which it usually does—the market for those things is going to explode in the very near future.
On Wednesday, the regulatory body announced a proposal that would allow cable and satellite subscribers to pick their own device that they want to use to watch programming—a move that would enable other tech companies and manufacturers (your Googles, Apples, and Amazons down to more localized manufacturers) to get in the game of developing these products and putting their own spin on it and integrating their own tech. The FCC’s five commissioners have a vote on the proposal scheduled for February 18.
According to the FCC, 99 percent of pay-TV subscribers are chained to their set-top box because cable and satellite providers have kept that market locked up. And as a result there has been a lack of competition in the space, meaning fewer choices and higher prices for the consumer—an average of $231 per year in rental fees and a total of $20 billion per year going from consumers’ wallets to their providers.
The FCC cited recent analysis which found that since 1994, the cost of a cable-set top box has risen 185 percent while the cost of computers, TVs, and mobile phones has dropped 90 percent.
“If you’ve ever signed up for a $99-a-month bundle for cable, phone and Internet and then wondered why your bill is significantly higher, this is a big reason,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said of the proposal in an article he wrote for Re/code. “Even when the company has recovered the cost of the box, you must continue to pay for it. … It doesn’t have to be this way.”