FCC Caves To Cable Companies Over Set-Top Box Rules

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Getty Images
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Getty Images

In January, the Federal Communications Commission unveiled an ambitious proposal that would free consumers from their annoying, clunky and expensive set-top boxes. The FCC has since revised their proposal at the behest of cable companies, but the core principal, that cable companies should make it so third party devices can provide its content, remains the same.


In light of the news, it’s frustrating that an agency like the FCC that is specifically designed to protect and serve consumers is slightly altering its policies to please the ultra rich, extremely bitchy, customer-hating cable companies. Nevertheless, the new rules are still a step in the right direction. Instead of being locked into the archaic cable boxes that usually cost customers over $200 a year in rental fees, consumers will have the choice to use a cheaper third party option that they can buy without being locked into rental fees from the overlords at Verizon or Time Warner.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who unveiled this proposal, explained what it would look like in a Los Angeles Times op-ed:

If adopted, consumers will no longer have to rent a set-top box, month after month. Instead, pay-TV providers will be required to provide apps – free of charge– that consumers can download to the device of their choosing to access all the programming and features they already paid for.

If you want to watch Comcast’s content through your Apple TV or Roku, you can. If you want to watch DirectTV’s offerings through your Xbox, you can. If you want to pipe Verizon’s service directly to your smart TV, you can. And if you want to watch your current pay-TV package on your current set-top box, you can do that, too. The choice is yours. No longer will you be forced to rent set-top boxes from your pay-TV provider.

Wheeler added in an FCC blog post, “Bottom line: consumers will no longer have to rent a set-top box just to watch the programing they already pay for.” This is wonderful for folks like you and me, and probably a pain in the ass for the rich dudes that pay for their expensive vacations on some remote island using money from the insane $20 billion a year set-top box market. So, it’s pretty good all around.

And yet, the policy isn’t as great as it once was. Big cable companies successfully exerted their influence over the FCC to modify the proposal, and that’s seldom the best outcome for consumer. AT&T, in particular, bitched and whined about the “overboard” and “unnecessary” proposal. The cable industry countered Wheeler’s initial plan by making it so customers could only record content if a customer bought or rented a set-top box from them. (See, they really hate you!)

Thankfully, the FCC countered that proposal and will now allow for third party devices to record content. But the FCC will also allow the cable companies to outsource building the application needed to get content from your cable company onto your third party device. It’s not a stretch to think that your cable company would offload this job to some shitty underpaid contractor that whips up and app that’s so bad and unusable that a customer gives up and buys a standard, shitty cable box to avoid the trouble.

The original proposal passed in the FCC on a 3-2 vote. Now, this modified proposal must go up for a new vote, and the evil cable companies are going to go down kicking and screaming over this. Comcast said in a statement that Chairman Wheeler’s “latest tortured approach is equally flawed” and that it would force “an overly complicated government licensing regime and heavy-handed regulation in a fast-moving technological space.” This is all despite the fact that this is basically the plan the well paid and influential Comcast lobbyist pushed for, but they still aren’t happy. Jerks.


The FCC votes on this latest proposal on September 29. Let’s just hope they don’t cave to the cable companies again.



I was about to buy a Tivo Bolt with the lifetime service and hand in my cable boxes. Should I wait or is it still going to be a long time before more (and better) 3rd party boxes come to market?