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FCC Advances on Proposed Set-Top Cable Box Rule Changes

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said the proposal will give consumers the choice of buying a device as opposed to paying a monthly rental fee for the box

The Federal Communications Commission approved a new rule Thursday that would permit cable users to buy less expensive devices instead of using cable set-top boxes.

According to CNBC, the measure passed by a 3-2 vote and is a major setback for cable operators as streaming services and on-demand providers are offering cheaper packages than traditional cable providers. The FCC says consumers typically pay $231 a year for their cable boxes.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said the proposal will now give consumers the choice of buying a device on their own as opposed to paying a monthly rental fee from their cable company, with the proposal driving down costs and not limiting consumers to certain device options.

In January, the FCC issued a proposal to allow cable and satellite subscribers to pick the devices they use to watch programming; most are currently required to lease their set-top boxes from their cable or satellite providers.

The change, if adopted, would allow tech companies like Google, Amazon and Apple to expand into consumer devices combining Internet and cable programming — an expansion that traditional cable and TV companies have long opposed.

Wheeler said the proposed rule will not mean drastic changes for consumer, and that “it only creates the opportunity for them to have choice … Nothing in this proposal slows down or stops cable innovation.”

“Costs are too high, innovation is slow and competition is too limited,” added Commissioner Jessica Rosenworce.

Under the proposal, the FCC will create specific rules and technical specifications for manufacturers.

Commissioner Ajit Pai voted against the proposal, stating that the new measure would swap out “one complex regulatory scheme for another.” “I know that the current set-top marketplace is the product of an intrusive regulatory regime,” Pai said.

Comcast, Verizon and other cable companies have also opposed the measure, stating that they are offering enough choices for the consumers as the industry evolves.

Comcast Senior Executive Vice President David Cohen called the proposed changes “anti-consumer” in a recent blog post, arguing that they are a “major step backwards for consumers and the video marketplace.”