Washington Post, TVWeek

President Obama Enters the Debate About Cable Set-Top Boxes

Apr 15, 2016  •  Post A Comment

President Obama has taken a stand on set-top boxes, which have become a hot topic after the FCC issued proposals aimed at opening up the set-top box market.

The Washington Post reports that Obama weighed in with his support of the agency’s proposals.

“President Obama is demanding better, cheaper versions of the cable boxes that millions of Americans use to browse their pay-TV channels, in hopes of enhancing competition,” The Post reports. “The Obama administration pressed for changes to the cable box in a letter to federal regulators Thursday night, according to multiple people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the filing is not yet public.”

The report adds: “Obama’s move effectively throws the full weight of his office behind the Federal Communications Commission, which has taken the lead role in trying to crack open the market for TV set-top boxes. Millions of Americans pay, on average, more than $200 a year to rent their boxes from a cable or satellite provider.”

The report quotes a blog item posted today by Jeff Zients and Jason Furman, two of Obama’s top economic advisers, who wrote: “Instead of spending nearly $1,000 over four years to lease a set of behind-the-times boxes, American families will have options to own a device for much less money that will integrate everything they want — including their cable or satellite content, as well as online streaming apps — in one, easier-to-use gadget.”

The Obama administration’s stance drew a quick reaction from the Future of TV Coalition, which opposes the initiative.

In a statement today, the coalition focused on Google’s involvement in the initiative, writing: “We all agree on the goal of greater consumer choice in video devices.  But we disagree strenuously (as does so much of the television ecosystem) with Google’s viewpoint that the only way to get more choice and innovation is through a FCC technology mandate that will decimate the creative industry, rip up licensing protections, tear down the value of content, and strip away consumer privacy protections.  The video marketplace has never been more dynamic or competitive, and consumers have more choices for services and devices than ever before.  It’s exactly the wrong time for the FCC to get into the business of designing set-top boxes and locking consumers into outdated technology.”

future of tv coalition


  1. When I was a kid all telephones belonged to the phone company and people rented them – just like set top cable boxes. Around 1959 an east coast phone company sold a load of old phones to Radio Shack (which actually was a retailer for two-way radio enthusiasts at the time) to be used for intercoms. But people started adding the phones to their home system and the ‘cat was out of the bag’! Along the way phone companies found that selling equipment was more profitable than renting. Servicing and handling equipment you rent generally does not bring in as much as selling it and charging for service. So the economic impact on cable operators will be little or none at all. The real issue is the continued growth of our government and their objective to control and monitor all communications. Recent history (think Snowden) shows this in not paranoia or conspiracy theory. So every attempt at government involvement, control, marketing or mandates of or for the communications industry should be rejected by all Americans. Government has had little or no hand in developing anything useful and recent history has demonstrated that everything they touch falls apart – Social Security, the VA, healthcare, education, foreign policy, the list goes on. With our government’s help your cable rates will look like your health care premiums!

  2. How about another reality check. I work for a company that provides many communications service including a cable-like video service, IPTV over our private local fiber network in the communities we serve. The cost we charge for the cable box is very minimal, free with the service for the first 3 boxes, and about $5 for each additional one after that. About 85 to 90 % of the bill to the customer is sent back to ESPN at about $12 per month, Fox Sports at about $6 per month, the local broadcast channels add up to about $10 to $15 per month, etc, etc, etc. The channel charges from the networks have gone up significantly in the last few years, as in about a 500% increase from 2000, and about 200% from just 2012. That is the cause of the prices. Cheaper boxes won’t change a thing.

  3. Who is going to handle customer service when those boxes don’t work? The cable company or the box manufacturer? This is a major issue for the telecom providers with all the different Android phone manufacturers

  4. I think president obama is absolutely right there should be a better and cheapable cable box

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