FCC To Vote On Controverisal Set-Top-Box Plan

Sep 29, 2016
Originally published on September 30, 2016 9:18 am
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The Federal Communications Commission considers a proposal today aimed at lowering your monthly cable TV bill. It would make cable companies provide a free app to replace the cable box that most customers now rent. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The next time you plop down on the couch, grab your remote and settle in for some serious binge-watching, think about this. A congressional survey says cable subscribers pay on average $231 a year just to rent that cable box, not including what they pay for the channels. But what if you could ditch to the box and click on a free app instead? That's what FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is proposing, and he's backed by consumer groups like Public Knowledge, which produced this web video.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Eight-four percent of Americans say cable prices are too high.

NAYLOR: Public Knowledge's John Bergmayer says there are lots of devices already out there that if you added a cable app would give you a better and less expensive TV experience.

JOHN BERGMAYER: Things like the Apple TV or the Roku or the Amazon Fire TV - devices like that which you can buy just in retail stores and tend to be much cheaper and smaller and more efficient than the rented cable set top box.

NAYLOR: Now, it should come as no surprise that the cable TV industry doesn't like this proposal. Renting all those cable boxes earns it $20 billion a year, and the movie and TV industry has largely opposed because they say an app would violate their copyright agreements. Democratic Congressman Tony Cardenas of California argues that minority programmers would especially be hurt because they'd have to hire expensive lawyers to negotiate copyright issues.

TONY CARDENAS: Their mom and pops - they're doing wonderful, beautiful work. It's giving a diversity of content that we've never seen before, and I'm very afraid and so are they that this may just thwart that.

NAYLOR: If the FCC proposal is adopted, the largest cable companies would have two years to develop the apps and make them available to their subscribers. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.