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Boxing clever: the FCC wants to see competition in cable set top box provision


via Flickr © brizzle born and bred (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The US Federal Communications Commission, the FCC,  wants to liberate the cable network set top box so that viewers there can buy their own.. if they want to.

At present the box is usually owned by the cable companies who, the FCC says, tend to charge far too much in rental:  a congressional study found that subscribers are paying an average of $231 a year to rent the box (far more than the thing actually costs in the first place).

The FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, thinks a much needed dose of competition on the set top front wouldn’t go amiss - it might result in better or more fully-featured boxes for ne thing.

So the FCC has proposed an open standard for the boxes and that should bring   in other players - Google is understood to be interested - who might then work on bringing new capabilities into the ‘the box’ for customers that want that sort of thing: online video integrated via the box, for instance.

The cable and telecom (now increasingly looking one and the same) players aren’t that keen, sensing they’ll lose control of viewing habits, perhaps to the detriment of advertising dollars.

Other observers point out that the cable v. online scene is changing so fast that by the time the ‘standard’ box is ready it’s possible most viewers may  have moved online anyway as so-called cord-cutting increases and people start subscribing to services like Netflix supplemented by ‘free to air’ television across the Internet. Who needs the box?

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