The FCC's new proposal could break you free from your cable box

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has introduced a new proposal that could break you free from your cable box. Though cable companies mostly control how TV is delivered to their customers, Wheeler's proposal, if it passes, would allow tech companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft, to bring new technologies to cable TV. This could include allowing customers to ditch their cable box for hardware like an Android TV box, or new software experiences to let you watch the TV you pay for on any device in your home.

From Re/code:

This week, I am sharing a proposal with my colleagues to tear down the barriers that currently prevent innovators from developing new ways for consumers to access and enjoy their favorite shows and movies on their terms. The new rules would create a framework for providing device manufacturers, software developers and others the information they need to introduce innovative new technologies, while at the same time maintaining strong security, copyright and consumer protections.

Wheeler stresses that this proposal doesn't mandate changes to how cable TV is packaged and sold to customers, nor will customers need to get a new set-top box if they don't want it. The goal is to open up the cable box market to new innovation, and bring the modern market more in line with rules established by Congress and the FCC 20 years ago, which mandates customers be able to choose their equipment.

The proposal will need to pass a vote of the full Commission, which has not yet been set. It has already received statements of opposition from every major cable TV provider.

Source: Re/code

76 Comments
  • You can already put a cable card in anything that has the correct slot, so what is he talking about? There is no choice because nobody wants to buy a cable box. Tivo had some success, but just some. Pants
  • What has the correct slot? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Tivo Pants
  • I heard HDHomeRun is nice but haven't tried it yet Posted via the Android Central App
  • From what I understood, the idea is to be able to remove the cable box completly and, for example, receive your susbcribed channels directly through internet streaming on devices like Android TV and Apple TV.
  • The cable companies already have tried to ax the cable card and use something else. Problem is there are a lot of cable companies, and to force a standard on all of them will always mean bad things. The first generation cable card was such a piece of crap, but it had to be rolled out because Momma government said so. Pants
  • "and to force a standard on all of them will always mean bad things. " How do you think your TV just so happens to be compatible with your cable box? The whole industry is based on Standards.
  • Are those things encrypted? There are no ports that were never used while the industry sorted things out? S-video, DVI and even component cables to some extent were a waste of money. Cable card was forced on the industry because of government mandates, and it was such a colossal pain in the ass until well after the second generation came available. These companies don't want to compete on ecryption standards and infrastructure standards because there will be tons of money spent for basically no reason. All of them will move to a streaming platform at some time, but that time needs to come naturally, not by the hand of the government. Pants
  • "All of them will move to a streaming platform at some time, but that time needs to come naturally" You're funny.
  • I'm sure you have some evidence to back your claim they are not going that way? In the last 2 years almost every TV provider launched some form of streaming service to existing customers. UVerse and the other Telco's cable service already is a streaming service. Pants
  • I didn't claim anything other than you're funny. And I presented the evidence.
  • He's not funny. He's either naive, or dumb.
  • agreed... the "funny" part isnt the part of that statement where he talks about them eventually going to streaming on their own, its the part where it should come naturally... if it wasn't for mandates, we would still be all watching TV in low def analog NTSC broadcast, some of our cars wouldn't have SRS or ABS, the emissions our cars kick out would be through the roof. there would only be one large phone company charging us what ever they felt like this month. sometime companies need a little motivation to make large leaps to the next level
  • You really have no clue. AT&T orchestrated the break up of Ma Bell because they wanted out of the land line business at that time. It also killed Bell labs, really the greatest private research lab the world has known. It set back features on phones for almost a decade (caller ID, call waiting etc), cell phones by a number of years, and didn't do anything to make AT&T smaller, since they have more landlines service now than then, and are a massive company. TV providers are already naturally progressing to the next steps of streaming and a box less world. Dish has sling tv, comcast lets internet only customers access to certain channels and on demand content without a full on subscription to its tv service. Most providers already have apps that let current customers watch TV from iOS and Android devices. Do I need to go on? Oh, and Cable Labs is trying to get a card less cable card standard for TV manufactures so TV's can be programmed to work on any service. The government mandate on Cable Cards back in the day was a monumental failure, as they sucked, were unreliable and manufactures gave up before the second generation came out to solve most of the problems. Pants
  • "Longer term, we want to transition with the cable industry to a more modern, IP-based cardless security solution. As part of our agreement, Comcast has agreed to work with TiVo on a two-way non-CableCARD security solution that will enable retail devices to access the full Comcast lineup of linear and VOD programming, whether QAM- or IP-delivered". From this http://blog.tivo.com/2015/01/future-of-cablecard/ tivo blog. Strange. Pants
  • Then prove me wrong. Pants
  • The CableCARD mandate was from 2007 to 2014. The cable companies have had just over a year to develop their own standard or implement their own ideas. So far they are offering streaming for a nominal fee or free. Much like the large wireless carriers that offered unlimited data for $30. The CableCARD mandate was not just for consumers, it was for the cable companies too. Each cable box or DVR from the cable company had a CableCARD in it. Even though the cable companies didn't want to support end user CableCARD equipment and made it a pain, I still don't consider it a failure. "The cable companies already have tried to ax the cable card and use something else."
    What was this something else? Different for each company? Moving or switching cable providers would have required the purchase of new equipment. Like most of today's cell phones. "Are those things encrypted?"
    Yes, digital connections like HDMI are encrypted. Most analog are not. "S-video, DVI and even component cables to some extent were a waste of money. Cable card was forced on the industry because of government mandates, and it was such a colossal pain in the ass until well after the second generation came available. These companies don't want to compete on ecryption standards and infrastructure standards because there will be tons of money spent for basically no reason."
    This is almost like saying the wheel shouldn't have been invented because all cars will fly in the future. In case you haven't noticed things get incrementally better. "TV providers are already naturally progressing to the next steps of streaming and a box less world."
    This is probably the most untrue statement you said. On Comcast you can't view a single channel without a cable box. Dish and DirecTv are the same. Cox hasn't encrypted their basic cable channels yet, but they plan to. I think Time Warner has a few basic channels that don't require a box. Otherwise you have to have a box from them or something that can use a CableCard.
  • The interesting part is, most of these guys have apps that let you stream channels provided you're on your home WiFI.
  • Most of them you just have to be on the companies wifi, and quite a few are part of the city wifi comcast started years ago, and you can usually stream as long as your on that service. Pants
  • My father has TWC for cable tv. He has that option to stream. We were in another state on vacation, and he wanted to watch something that was not on the TV in the condo we rented. He pulled out his laptop and watched it via that streaming service. It requires a password from what I gathered. We were not on TWC cable Internet though. From what i could tell, it was AT&T and it was a metro Ethernet type service. Also, I cannot use the same site he does even though I have TWC service without authenticating. I don't have TV at my house, Just Business Class Internet (provided by work). TL;DR: It seems that TWC allows streaming off their network if you authenticate.
  • In Canada, we have no cable card. That is merely a dream. We are literally forced to buy/rent the provider's ****** hardware.
  • The way I'm understanding it, I believe it will open up doors for apps to be created to access your cable. Which is good bc it can do away w/cable box rental fees. Posted via the Android Central App
  • CableCard requires too much technical experience to use comfortably. I had a tivo a decade ago and while it worked ok, it required multiple service calls for the cable company to get it set up. Not to mention the high up front cost and monthly fee the barrier for entry is higher than most people are willing to accept. I have been using a WMC system for about 6 years now; however; it requires technical skills to trouble shoot when you have a problem. That being said I have the required skills so my total equipment cost from the cable company amount to a single cable card which costs me $2.50 and allows me to have 3 tvs with DVR access. The up front cost was of course still higher, ~$150 for the tuner and then any computer with hdmi out for display is the minimum. I have easily made that up many times over over the course of these years though. All that being said, really the primary concern is user experience. Cable boxes run like crap, my WMC setup was abandoned by MS a very long time ago and still has a much better UX than any modern cable box I've seen. I would much prefer to let companies take a crack at improving the interface that I have to use everyday to view my cable content. Even if we don't end up saving any money on it, at least it would work better. Also moving their janky interface to an app only solves the problem of being able to view content on whatever device supports that app, it does nothing for the fact that it's still a terrible user experience.
  • But the implementation of the cable card standard has been less than stellar by the cable companies trying to make it difficult for other players to provide DVR services.
  • I wouldn't mind this. I would rather buy my own box and pay for it one time vs having to pay each month to lease equipment. I already have my own cable modem so I don't have to pay extra to lease a modem. Just like with unlocked cell phones. Let me pay full price for the phone and let me choose my service.
  • From my experience being a tech for various TV providers for a while now is the life span of the boxes actually makes it cheaper to lease one. Even at $10 a month most boxes cost $300+, so you have to have the box last 2.5 years to break even. Tons of them crap out in less than 3 years. Pants
  • Well my cable modem at least has saved me money vs having to pay Time Warner Cable $5 extra per month to lease their equipment. $80 modem one time vs $5 a month to lease a modem. I'd take that one time charge. How did you come up with the $300 cost for a cable box? Not saying you're wrong but I guess I never knew where to find one.
  • Because I work for a service provider. Some cost less, some more, and it seems the going rate for a normal tivo in its hayday was around that price. Also, it's good to buy a cable modem. They are only $75 maybe and my last one lasted 5 years, only replaced because of the DOCSIS standard changing, not because it broke. Pants
  • I also am a field tech for a provider,, let them learn the hard way, good equipment isn't cheap, and has a short operating life, buying 2, maybe 3 in a 2 year span,, especially a multi tuner DVR,, yea, welcome back to renting Posted via the Android Central App
    2015 Moto X Pure
  • Do you believe the cable boxes could be cheaper? Or are they legitimately priced accordingly?
  • They could be, but there are only 2 manufactures of cable boxes, Motorola and Cisco. If they just had a cable input and 1 hdmi port out and nothing else that would help as well. Arris was talking about getting into the game, but they might just be making boxes for the Telco TV services, ie u-verse from att and prism for centurylink. Pants
  • Actually Motorola and Technicolor. Cisco sold there cable box division to Technicolor last year. http://www.multichannel.com/news/distribution/technicolor-cisco-seal-dea... Posted via magic.
  • I guess you must have gotten out of the business or you would have noticed that Arris bought Motorola Home over a year ago, so now all the former Mot boxes are Arris boxes.
  • They definitely could be made better, I.E. be worth the cost, having other 'decent' options would be good as well Posted via the Android Central App
    2015 Moto X Pure
  • Ok that makes sense.
  • For me it's not so much the cost, as it is the cable box's software and speed. No customizable channel menus and you can't channel surf quickly like you could with good ol' analog. Tons of other features I'd like to have as well. But we're stuck with the one -size-fits-all cable box.
  • I'm not sure about that, I just signed up for cable and the box they gave me has a manufacture date of 2009. So I'm going to be paying $10 a month for a 6 year old box the cable company has certainly fully depreciated by now, but I have no choice if I want the service. And they told me I can't get all services with cable card and my only option is to rent the box from them. So I think this kind of legislation is a great move. The box could probably be a fraction of the size and cost but there's no incentive to innovate because of the monopoly the cable companies hold. ...Joe K.
  • It sounds like you're more familiar with this stuff on a technical level than I am, but don't you think the prices on these devices would plummet once they become a consumer good? As it is now, TiVo is the only company manufacturing boxes like this that are marketed directly to consumers rather than to service providers, and even then, the number of players is really low. The second these things get their own displays in Best Buy, I would think the prices would drop big time. Posted via the Android Central App
  • You would think, but it didn't happen the first time when cable card became the standard. Pants
  • Of course they will. Look at home telephones, which is the example used in the article. If you limit the competition and keep barriers to entry high, the devices will lack diversity, innovation, and be priced high. This would change all of that. People have been conditioned not to care about cable boxes because they've looked to alternatives like set top boxes and blu-ray players and smart TVs to provide the additional services and features that a cable box could provide.
  • 15 years of cable cards proves this theory wrong. How exactly is Tivo doing? I worked for a cable company that let people buy the boxes instead of renting them and it screwed those people so bad they stopped after a year. Even in Tivo prime people replaced them ever 3 years or so, and most of those boxes were well over $300 at the time, plus they paid Tivo monthly. Leasing those boxes has always been a better deal for consumers. That may change, but as of now that's how it is. Pants
  • This will just drive comcast to raise their internet pricing...
    Not saying that what Wheeler is trying to do is bad, comcast is just evil that way
  • ^This. Also I can see services like Netflix and Hulu becoming a lot more expensive in the near future through FCC taxing as more and more content gets delivered via internet. Posted via the GS6 Active, aka GS6 M.E. (Manly Edition)
  • Wow - every major cable provider opposes this. I can't understand why. [sarcasm] Posted via the Android Central App
  • You probably don't actually. The loss of leasing boxes will just get put on another part of your bill, it's all the crap that is done on the backend that makes something like this a tough sale. Pants
  • That sounds quite nice to me honestly. Free choice is always better. Posted via the ONE M9
  • From what I gathered from this article... Is that other companies would be able to start creating cheaper Android cable boxes (probably around $100) and the consumers would be able to choose if they wanted to lease a box from their cable provider, or buy their own Android powered box. As for the argument that leasing is cheaper than buying because boxes cost $300+ well thats because there are not that many cable box manufactures. If others were to make Android powered cable boxes, the price would come down and thus everyone now has more options. I see this as a good move IMHO.
  • The problem is you can already do this with a cable card. Tivo is the only company that did any good, but even they pretty much gave up. Cable card promised all of what you want, and 10+ years later it hasn't done anything. Pants
  • What i would rather do, is buy a subscription to each network that I want to watch from. Think of it like an A la Carte setup... Each network can charge like $5-10 per month and you just pick which networks you want.
  • You rather do that now, and then when the specific (ie G4) cable channels go out of business, you will cry about the lack of content. Pants
  • I cut the cord a month ago, and I get all of the channels I want except the Golf Channel and I'm saving $100 a month. And that is using multiple services.
  • You don't speak for everyone else, so this is a pretty stupid point to make. Last I remember most people watch 10-15 channels only. If each channel is $10 a pop, or even $5, there is a good chance it's worth having all the other crap you never watch just for the simple sake that having to have essentially 10 different apps or whatnot just to watch TV is a pain in the ass. Pants
  • We finally got FiOS last month with a cable card provided by Verizon to use with Tivo and it is a much better experience, especially the UI. You won't have on demand or movie rentals from Verizon but you can get that from other sources.
  • Right, but the implementation of the cable card from the restrictions of what you could and couldn't do with it as well as the technical headaches to get it to work with the providers....
  • I'm not sure what your talking about. As it stands you give the cable company a couple of serial numbers from the card and your up and running. Now 10 years ago it was a nightmare, but it's all been ironed out. They don't let you watch on demand, but that's an actual technical limitation of the card, not the cable companies being pains in the ass. Pants
  • The last time (granted that has been a couple of years) I contacted Time Warner about it, they weren't very helpful about it and seemed to imply that watching cable with a cable card would be fine, but recording it could be a problem.
  • The " you can already do this with a cable card" argument makes absolutely no sense and obviates the point of this entire article.
  • Enlighten us then. If Google or Apple wants to make a box to replace comcasts box you are renting, they can right now. Complete with their own UI and whatever revolutionary thing they can come up with. So explain to me how that isn't exactly what the article is about. Pants
  • Exactly right.
  • This honestly sounds like something the cable companies should support, or at least not fight. It might actually keep more people from doing away with a tv subscription and delaying cutting the cord. They keep fighting giving people what they want and instead try to force them to cough up as much money as they can because they're so use to being a monopoly and people having no choice. They need to change or they'll die out. Here is hoping that they don't change!
  • I've had my own equipment for a very long time now, namely TiVo.
    Using it or a Slingbox or any number of phone related apps I can send the TV I pay for to any number of devices.
    This proposal doesn't seem like anything new so what's "hidden" in this that's going to screw us all over? Posted via the Android Central App using my LG G4
  • For those of us that work in this field its a lot easier said then done I can tell you that Posted via the Android Central App
  • Yes, 22yrs in the field,, I love reading comments of the uneducated, as if they really really believe in their heart of hearts, that this would make service free, with the rate of change in the industry, I. E. DOCSIS3 being old and ready for the next move, channel compression on the verge of its next change,, these kids would have to purchase a new more expensive piece to keep up, it will be a good idea, but it will hurt more people than it will make happy Posted via the Android Central App
    2015 Moto X Pure
  • That makes no sense at all. Up until last year I had been leasing the same cable box for about 7 years straight. If hardware becomes obsolete its the same thing whether it's leased or purchased outright. It wouldn't only apply to purchased cable boxes.
  • This would not be hard to do at all. Most cable companies have apps that stream at least some of their channels to their customers. It would NOT be hard to port these to AndroidTV and FireTV (Android apps) or AppleTV (iOS apps). Porting to Roku might be harder but not impossible at all. And it's got to be cheaper than maintaining the decades-old cable boxes they're all still using to avoid the CableCard requirements on new hardware.
  • Who is using decades old stuff to avoid the cable card standard? All cable boxes since 2009 or so have had to have a cable card. Yes there is some ancient equipment out there but it's not getting put in on new customers. Pants
  • Cablevision and TIme Warner, just off the top of my head. They haven't bought cable boxes since before 2009 cutoff, because they don't want cable boxes that have cable cards in them. Cablevision in particular is using come clunky Scientific Atlantas that can't handle the their UI...my frigging smartwatch has more processing power than that thing.
  • Yeah so Cablevision has been phasing out those SA boxes since 2012 and are now heavily pushing the Samsung OMS boxes that have cable cards in them. If you still have them you can go to your walk in center and trade them in. Or you can hang on to them if you want since you're not informed enough to know what's going on in the industry. Posted via the Android Central App
  • If you think so I invite you to visit the local Cablevision office in Wappingers and view the shelves full of SA boxes that theyre still issuing, including the HD DVR boxes. Ask them for a Samsung and you get funny looks. You might want to get Informed yourself there.
  • Well I'm sorry you have a ****** walk in center because those HD Dvrs are pointless now that the Multiroom Dvr has the rewind buffer. There is absolutely no advantage to them. And the 4250 HD boxes are still used but the push is for the Samsung boxes with Multiroom Dvr such a big factor now. Posted via the Android Central App
  • XBox One is perfect for this. Now I'd like to see how my Nexus player could do it. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Console pleb. Posted via the Android Central App
  • This would also benefit the Cable providers from maintaining cable boxes and inventory. Sort of like GSM vs CDMA back in the day. Also it allows the cabme companies to concentrate and charge $$$ for the switch from traditional TV consumption to data. No more necessity for contracts with content providers. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Other than opening the next step in streaming, why would the cable companies oppose this? Are they in the business of renting boxes or delivering content? Understanding that they are worried about the "next step" Posted from my LG V10
  • They already have their own plan for what to do next and this forces them on some haphazard government half enforced plan. Plus, Cable Cards already do this, just nobody makes equipment. Pants
  • It's more about getting cable services in more devices, but the cable or telco companies don't like this mainly because it would squash the rental fees of a cable box, which ironically, they make more revenue off those boxes than anything else. Posted via the Android Central App