Cable boxes deserve the scorn of any television-loving American: They’re ugly, they’re heavy, and they’re expensive. And when they don’t work, it’s a pain to get them fixed.
Last year, a U.S. senate study estimated that Americans spend $19.5 billion just renting boxes from cable providers every year—about $231 per household, on average. Worse, people who try to save money by buying one up front often report running into nightmares of technology logistics. The lack of innovation in the cable-box industry has made them a product of the past that’s generally a pain to deal with.
But now, it seems that things might change for the better: Next month, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on a proposal that would, in its words, “tear down anti-competitive barriers” and let customers access cable through devices other than cable set-top boxes. If passed, it’d allow viewers to access cable directly through third-party devices or apps—perhaps ones made by Google, Apple, Tivo, or Roku.
The proposal was laid out by Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the FCC in an op-ed on Re/Code published midday Wednesday. He elaborated on his reasoning: “The proposal is about one thing: consumer choice. You should have options that competition provides. It’s time to unlock the set-top box market—let’s let innovators create, and then let consumers choose.” He notes that the current regulation is “woefully out of date and based on 20-year-old technology.”