Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler plans to give people more choices when it comes to buying or renting a cable box.
Americans spend an estimated $20 billion a year renting one or more set-top boxes from their cable and satellite TV providers, revenue that the FCC said dramatically exceeds the cost of providing the devices to pay-TV subscribers.
“Lack of competition has meant few choices and high prices for consumers -- on average, $231 in rental fees annually for the average American household,” Wheeler said in a statement distributed Wednesday.
Copyright issues and security concerns by the pay-TV companies have limited the market for device makers. Cable and satellite TV providers typically steer subscribers to their own products and charge a monthly fee.
That fee has long been a sore point for many consumers.
“Over the past 20 years, the cost of cable set-top boxes has risen 185% while the cost of computers, televisions and mobile phones has dropped by 90%,” he said.
Consumer advocates cheered the move, but one former FCC official questioned the wisdom of creating a framework with regulations for device makers.
“With regard to regulating set-top video navigation devices, the FCC appears intent, like Captain Ahab, to keep pursuing the big White Whale -- but in this case, the White Whale has long since become extinct,” Randolph J. May, president of the nonprofit Free State Foundation, said in a statement.
For his part, Wheeler compared the proposed move by the FCC to the agency’s decision more than two decades ago to allow other device makers to provide rotary-dial telephones, after which prices fell.
“Think back to the days when Ma Bell required customers to only rent their phones from them,” Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Menlo Park) said in a statement that applauded the latest move. “When the FCC lifted this prohibition, consumers not only saved money, but innovation thrived in the telephone market.”