A Comcast cable subscription on your Apple TV? Maybe a Verizon FiOS app on your Roku?
It’s not exactly cord-cutting, but there was an interesting proposal made Wednesday, Jan. 27, by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that would de-couple cable subscriptions from cable set-top boxes, opening the door for cable and satellite subscribers to access and watch their cable content on any set-top box of their choice.
In his proposal, published at Re/Code, Wheeler said 99 percent of pay-TV customers lease their set-top boxes from their cable provider, spending an average of $231 a year for those boxes. It’s one of those hidden costs of cable many consumers don’t even realize is driving their bill up.
“If you’ve ever signed up for a $99-a-month bundle for cable, phone and Internet and then wondered why your bill is significantly higher, this is a big reason,” Wheeler writes. “Even after the company recovers the cost of the box, you must continue to pay for it.”
In a tweet sent out shortly after noon, Wheeler took the side of the free market when it comes to set-top boxes.
— Tom Wheeler (@TomWheelerFCC) January 27, 2016
While this proposal focuses on cheaper prices for the consumer by not being forced to pay a lease for a set-top box, it opens the door for those cable companies to cater to cord-cutters.
Apple’s tvOS App Store, for instance, is a model that would allow a cable company to create an app and deliver content. Apple, of course, would need to approve that app. According to MacRumors.com, Apple may not be totally in favor of such an app, because it wouldn’t have full control over its interface. At the same time, Apple is trying to strike deals with content providers to create its own bundled TV service.
In other words, Wednesday’s proposal is a step in the right direction when it comes to technology companies working together with cable companies.
Now, this proposal won’t be easy for the FCC. Cable companies not only want control over the content, but also over the user experience.
“Allowing more choice in cable boxes is great but the cable companies actually have a strong counter-argument: they’ve been making apps for all kinds of devices that let consumers access their TV services, like Comcast’s X1 app. Those apps aren’t the best, however, and not every cable company offers them, particularly smaller systems. And companies like Google and Apple would love to build new kinds of integrated TV experiences, but haven’t been able to offer actual television on any of their devices yet.”
Wheeler says his proposal will “pave the way for a competitive marketplace” and “could even end the need for multiple remote controls.”
But most importantly, he said, it gives consumers a choice.
“You should have options that competition provides,” he said. “It’s time to unlock the set-top box market — let’s let innovators create, and then let consumers choose.”