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FCC approves proposal to use third-party boxes

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NEW YORK (AP) — The government wants to make it easier for you to buy and use cable boxes from companies other than your cable provider.

This could help companies like TiVo, Roku and Apple deliver a cable feed, too, as part of their video recorders or streaming-TV devices.

Introducing competition could also help lower people’s cable bills. The Federal Communications Commission says that 99 percent of cable and satellite TV customers rent boxes from their cable providers, and that the price of cable boxes has nearly tripled since 1994. Meanwhile, prices of common consumer electronics like cellphones, TVs and computers have fallen sharply. The FCC says the average U.S. household pays $231 a year to rent a cable box.

The FCC approved a proposal Thursday to let consumers swap pricey cable boxes rented directly from their provider for cheaper third-party devices and apps. The proposal passed in a three-to-two vote Thursday. It would boost competition in the 20 billion dollar television set-top box market

Commission chairman Tom Wheeler says “consumers deserve a break and the choice.” The FCC says nearly all Pay-TV users in the U.S. currently must get their set-top boxes from their cable companies … and that they pay on average $231 each year.

Consumer groups applaud the ruling saying it means the days of cable companies tacking on hidden fees and forcing people to pay for channels they don’t watch could be coming to an end.

This isn’t a done deal yet, so don’t call to cancel your cable box. There must be feedback allowed from the public, which means the final vote on this from the FCC could be months away. Its also safe to say the cable companies will try to fight this.

The rules would be meant as a successor to CableCard, which lets consumers get a card from their cable companies and stick it into another box like a TiVo. CableCards were supposed to free consumers from cable boxes, but it wasn’t very popular.

“CableCard never achieved a very competitive marketplace,” said Chris Lewis, vice president of government affairs for consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge. He hopes new rules could help other companies create technology that appeals to more consumers.


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