Obama urges agency to open competition in cable TV boxes

“The Obama administration on Friday weighed into the debate over allowing consumers to switch pricey cable television boxes for less expensive devices, urging an agency to set an example for other parts of government to boost competition,” Timothy Gardner reports for Reuters. “‘You could have a set a standards such that anyone could connect any box to their cable and those boxes could compete for lower prices and greater innovation,’ Jason Furman, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers told reporters in a teleconference.”

“The Federal Communications Commission, an independent agency, in February proposed a rule opening competition in the $20 billion television set-top box market. It set a 60 day comment period on the rule that could cost major cable companies,” Gardner reports. “The rule would allow consumers to obtain video services from providers such as Alphabet Inc, Apple Inc and Tivo, instead of cable, satellite and other television providers such Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications.”

“The rule would allow consumers to obtain video services from providers such as Alphabet Inc, Apple Inc and Tivo, instead of cable, satellite and other television providers such Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications,” Gardner reports. “It is unclear if the rule will be implemented before Obama leaves office next January. Cable and television companies have lashed out against the proposal saying it could stifle innovation.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Cable companies will lose this one – and rightfully so. Claiming that opening their closed box monopoly “could stifle innovation,” is laughable. What’ll they claim next, that if it rains we’ll get dry?

The cable box is one of the absolute worst tech products we’re forced to deal with each day. Let Apple bring their inimitable ease-of-use to this area!


  1. This initiative is a government gift to Google. The day after FCC chairman Wheeler announced the plan, Google invited the DC press to its office to show of its new set-top box. Soon your viewing habits will be tracked as closely as your internet habits.

  2. I thought CableCards were the answer to cable companies keeping you locked to their awful boxes. I think I’m about the only one that uses them. Extremely happy TiVo user since 2004. I’m more than happy to but TiVo hardware and pay extra for their service in order to have a better television experience. And I recently switched out my second TiVo box for a TiVo Mini, allowing me to return my second CableCard to Comcast and save $10/mo (and $120/mo on TiVo programming).
    I’ve long wished that Apple would buy TiVo and incorporate their technology into the Apple TV, or a second full-featured DVR version of the Apple TV. With the now imposed data caps in my area, I have zero interest in streaming all my content. I’d much rather have instantaneous playback from a DVR. Just wish Apple would make a box that in enticing to use. My Apple TV collects dust. Hopefully, one day, Apple will make a true home media hub with HomeKit integration.

    1. Same here – finally ditched my crappy cable box for a TiVo Bolt with cable card and loving it. Cable box was well over 5 years old and my monthly payments paid for it many times over…

      1. I’m hoping TiVo releases a Bolt Pro unit sometime this year with 6 tuners and 4K support. If they do, I’ll probably upgrade my Premiere XL HD and maybe add a second Mini. Added 4 drops in my house so living room, office, master and kid’s room all had Cat5. So glad I did. No more delay transferring shows. The Mini works like a charm and will pay for itself in 6 months. Glad you’re enjoying the Bolt.

  3. Maybe this will address those who don’t have a choice. Most cable companies have a monopoly in certain areas. Luckily, I have a choice of Comcast Xfinity or AT&T U-Verse for cable or Direct TV for satellite.

      1. What I’m saying is that I can at least choose between two cable companies, whereas most people have no choice at all.
        Most people hate Comcast. Me – I wouldn’t know. I never have to deal with them or their crappy equipment. I’d equate using a CableCard and a TiVo to using a Mac and their equipment to a PC. The user experience is night and day. So I pay a little more. It’s 1000% worth it.

    1. I think everyone will be in for a big surprise if they think a la carte channels is going to be less expensive. Maybe for households of 1 or 2, but doubtful for a family of 4 with a variety of tastes in programming.

      Also, keep in mind that many of the channels are owned by a parent company. Even if you do get a la carte pricing, you’ll never get flat rate pricing since not all channels are created equally. ESPN signs multimillion dollar contracts to broadcast games. While I’d love flat-rate pricing it won’t happen. Maybe if they had a 3-tier structure of basic ($3/mo), medium ($5/mo) and premium channels ($10/mo), but then again costs will add up quickly. HBO Go and other premium content already costs $10 and up per month.

      1. We’re not talking about price. We’ve been round and round that issue ad nauseam around here. There is no need to bring it up again.

        We’re talking about being able to choose EXACTLY what you want to watch without having crap shoved on you as well via bundles. It is how cable TV should have been provided, and damned well COULD have been provided, in the first place. It’s the future. It is here and now. The media companies can choke on it for all I care.

  4. I was thinking the cable card and TiVo angle as well.

    Microsoft Media Center was also trying to do the cable card thing, but it appears to have died.

    DirecTV now allows you to buy you TV with a “box” built in, but it’s just a slave off the main box DTV provides. All for a fee.

    One more thing. I am fired of having to pay extra for HDTV from my provider. It seems that it should be the default standard now, and that fee needs to go away.

    1. Honestly, you won’t regret going with a TiVo. I don’t work for them or anything, but next to Apple, it’s the one company I highly recommend.

      I agree 100% with the HD channels becoming standard. But, with TiVo there’s a great feature that cable boxes don’t include. You can block channels and they won’t show up in your guide. So I block all the non-HD channels as well as Spanish channels, Home Shopping and all the stuff I will never watch. So, when I view the guide I only see what I want, and when I channel surf I skip over those as well.

  5. I cut-the-cord over 4 years ago, opting instead for YouTube for history and the occasional current event. With savings resulting from being cable less, I can purchase DVDs for favorite movies, or a favorite TV series (Spartacus would be an example). For current news in a reasonably timely fashion, I use Stitcher and Agogo on iPhone. I may not know the latest Jenner-Kardashian news (excuse me: gossip) but I think I’m getting what I need. 🙂

  6. The cable card solution is not a solution. All it does is allows you to access the scrambled linear channels, but none of the other services are available (on-demand programming, search functionality, pay-per-view, etc).

    In order to make this work, some standardisation would need to be implemented. In addition to what is already there (access to linear channels and decryption of scrambled content), there will have to be some published API for accessing their on-demand library, pay-per-view content and other similar common services that cable operators offer today. There is no reason why Motorola’s crappy set-top-box has to be the only device capable of accessing these services.

    I have no doubt that, once these features are made accessible through API, Apple would build them into the AppleTV and their box would be infinitely more intuitive than the crappy, confusing UI of Verizon FiOS (or Time Warner, or Optimum, or Comcast…).

    There is really no argument in favour allowing cable operators exclusive control over delivery of these features. MDN’s analogy with the old telephony (dominated by the monopoly AT&T), where innovation, pricing and quality of service leapt through the roof once the monopoly was broken, is perfect.

    Let us hope this administration is able to break this stranglehold.

  7. Why is it most of you think the government (POS Obama) should be able to tell a PRIVATE cable company what is needs to do with its network? What gives the government the right to force a cable company to use boxes not supplied by the cable company? This is not at all like the old AT&T monopoly days. AT&T was subsidized by the government to build out a nationwide network and granted a legal monopoly in the 1800’s to do just that. Cable companies receive no government subsidies and are anything but a monopoly. You can get programming from multiple sources almost anywhere you live.

    Cable channels are bundled because that is how the networks sell them to the cable companies for carrying rights. Example: the #1 network on cable by a giant margin is Fox News. In order for a cable company to carry Fox News, they must also agree to carry Fox Business, FX, FXX, Fox Movie Network and several more. Fox’s deal with DirecTV even requires then my put Fox News and Fox Business on channels right next to each other.

    If you don’t want the bundling, then MANY niche networks that each serve smaller, but loyal audiences would cease to exist.

    Cable does not broadcast on the public airwaves and government needs to butt out. They MAY have more pull with DirecTV because they are broadcasting on frequencies regulated by the US government.

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