It’s another disconnect between cord-cutters and traditional cable/satellite companies. More and more people who presently subscribe to cable and satellite are faced with the annoying requirement to rent their set-top boxes for nine dollars per month in some places. Now, the United States Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) is deciding whether to do something about it.
Many companies who stream services such as Google and TiVo opine that the FCC should restrict cable companies from forcing their customers to lease the boxes. They proffer that marketplace competition would both decrease costs and improve the functionality of the devices. For example, by using boxes that could combine subscription channels with streaming services such as Netflix, only one remote control would be needed.
Chip Pickering, chief executive officer of the Comptel trade group (which includes members such as Netflix and Amazon) points out that, “Decades ago we ended the practice of forcing customers to lease a black rotary dial phone from Ma Bell. The archaic practice of forced leasing a set-top box from the cable company is a holdover from a bygone era.”
As suspected, the cable industry is doing everything it can to fight the possible transition. Already losing scores of cord-cutting customers, the industry is trying to right the ship. It is estimated that the cable industry makes about $19.5 billion annually in leasing fees.
And, as of right now, cable subscribers really do not have a choice regarding their set-top boxes. Approximately 99% of customers rent the boxes directly from the companies.
Some United States Senators, including Ed Markey of Massachusetts, are calling for a “new national consumer-friendly standard that will allow consumers to choose their own video box.” And, hopefully change will come as part of the FCC’s reviews of such standards.
Brian Dietz, a spokesman for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association Group provides the opposite view by questioning, “Do we want the federal government engineering a new TV device for consumers when the marketplace is clearly working? The market is working without government intervention.”
As part of a task force convened the by FCC, the two sides could not agree on technical standards. The major point of disagreement: the group including streaming services believes that the standards should allow set-top devices to organize programs however they want. If that happens, Google wins. If the FCC goes with what what cable companies want, consumers would use apps approved by subscription providers to buy cable/satellite-TV programs.
Both sides are pressuring the FCC to make a decision. However, it is likely that the FCC will take its time. Until then, the battle continues to rage between the two very differing schools of thought.