Why You Should Own Your Cable Box

The tyranny of the set-top box may soon be over.
The way it works now, you’re forced to rent a cable box from the likes of Time Warner Cable and Comcast to the tune of about $230 per year. The very idea that in 2016 you need a dedicated piece of hardware, whether it’s Comcast’s X1 or Time Warner Cable’s latest “whole home” DVR, just to tune into Guy’s Grocery Games on Food Network is crazy on its own, but the fact that you have to rent these boxes in perpetuity is even worse.
The Federal Communications Commission on February 18 issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would make it so that consumers wouldn’t have to rent a set-top box from their cable company.
Although this is just the first step in a lengthy process, the prospect of being able to own your own cable box, just as you’re able to own your own cable modem or smartphone, already has supporters of the measure giddy with excitement.
And that’s great, of course, but I wanted to lean more about the possible implications of being able to own my own set-top box. (I’d have to get cable first, but that’s another matter.) I’d expect to see lower prices as a result of competition among hardware makers, but is that all? What happens when more and more people, from different communities, can afford cable? Might networks be encouraged to create more diverse programming? Heck, what are the odds that the cable companies will fight this tooth and nail (spoiler: it’s a lock), and why?
To find some answers to questions like these I reached out to some folks to get a better understanding of the big picture here.
To discuss these issues I’m joined In this edition of Radio Motherboard by John Bergmayer, a senior staff attorney at the Public Knowledge advocacy group; FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn; and Michael Scurato, Vice President of Policy at the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
Radio Motherboard is available on iTunes, SoundCloud, and can also be played using your favorite podcasting app. As always, thank you for listening.