One of the least glamorous realities of the American cable industry is a relic invented in 1948: the cable box. The box has become a fixture in the American household, not least because it is surprisingly profitable. Earlier this year, a U.S. Senate study found that American households pay $231 a year on average renting cable boxes. Further, the report estimated that 99 percent of cable customers rented their equipment, and, across the country, that added up to a $19.5 billion industry just renting cable boxes.
The senators who commissioned the study, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, noted that this dependable rental revenue gave the industry little incentive to innovate and make better cable boxes. Which begs a really good question: Why aren’t more people purchasing their cable boxes?
That’s one of the concerns of a recent report from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), in an effort to encourage competition in the cable box realm. The report found that for most consumers, choosing not to rent a cable box can be an IT nightmare—one that involves lots of time, research, and up-front costs—that most would rather not deal with. Renting a cable box has become the path of least resistance, even if it’s costly and generally terrible.