back to article FCC urged to pause its fight against America's $20bn cable-box rip-off

Sixty US congressman have sent a letter [PDF] to Tom Wheeler – chairman of America's internet mall cop, the FCC – urging him to "press pause" on plans to open the cable box market to competition. In it, the elected representatives argue that the proposal to force large telco companies to allow third parties to produce set-top …

  1. Chris Gray 1
    Go

    Canada much better

    Here in Canada you've been able to buy the cable boxes for several years. My older, main box is a PVR that I bought at a local "London Drugs" (they are also a pharmacy!). It's an oddball one with an external IDE hard drive, but so far it continues to work (3-4 years). The firmware in it seems to be crap, but perhaps that's to be expected.

    After a recent move, I wanted another TV. I checked into buying a simple terminal, and it looked like it would be around $150. Online they were $132 (roughly). I phoned a local outlet of the cable company, and they were on sale for CDN $72. So I went and got one, and it works just fine. It came with its power wall-wart, an HDMI cable, a universal remote with battery, and an extender for the infrared sensor. I'm not complaining about that price!

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

      Re: Cable boxes are not "...only for rent."

      It must be unique to your state. Here in California there's no such option. Comcast won't do anything other than rent you their equipment, and even if you buy a compatible device straight off the top of their list of them (a Motorola Arris, DocSys 3.0 in my case), they will lie out their arse & claim it's neither supported nor a DocSys 3.0 device. When I pointed out the fact that it was the *number one* device on their own compatibility list AND that the manufacture claims it's a DocSys 3.0 device, then and ONLY then did Comcast decide to pull their head out of their bum to let it connect to their network.

      *Spits on Comcast in disgust*

      You've probably also got the fabled thing called "Competition" in your state as well. It sure as fek doesn't exist in this one. =-(

    2. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Cable boxes are not "...only for rent."

      Can you post a link to this TWC page? I kind of wonder if you think this article is about cable modems, and not cable TV boxes. I've never heard of a cable company allowing people to put TV STBs they own on the system, other than Tivo and Media Center PCs, but even those have limitations in that they are one way only (no VOD or PPV) due to Cable Card limitations.

      If they are allowing this, I'd like to know how long? Bet it only started when the FCC started talking about competition. They wouldn't be the first company that took a more consumer friendly stance for as long they had a fear that competition might happen to them, then immediately go back to their monopolistic ways the moment the spectre of competition was gone.

      1. Driver's Door
        FAIL

        Re: Cable boxes are not "...only for rent."

        Sorry, my mistake. I was talking about the cable modem.

  3. Oengus Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    US Politicial system

    Sixty US congressman have sent a letter ... to Tom Wheeler

    Good to see the politicians are starting to earn their campaign contribution money. Isn't this the main reason that companies provide political campain funds?

    I wonder what we would find if we looked into the declared contributions...

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: US Politicial system

      That they all took money from the cable industry. Guaranteed. And that another few hundred of their fellow congressmen also took money from the industry, but I guess couldn't be bothered with adding their names to the letter because they feared they might catch consumer backlash what with this being an election year and all.

      Because the problem isn't that these 60 are bought off, but that nearly every congressman has taken money from the industry. It is more a question of how much they've taken, not whether they have.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: US Politicial system

      Well, we do have the best that money can buy. And once bought, they usually stay bought....err... until someone with more money comes by.

  4. corestore

    Don't wait for the FCC...

    Just reverse engineer the damn protocols and put them in some Linux media player setups... I've been banging this drum from time to time for over ten years and I'm astonished no-one has done it.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Don't wait for the FCC...

      Good luck with that. They won't authenticate devices on their cable plant unless 1) it is their own or 2) it is using a cable card. The cable card licensing has restrictions that would prevent what you suggest.

      I'm astonished you are so dim that you think the solution is just as simple as reverse engineering protocols. The content is encrypted, even if they gave you the source code you aren't going to be able to legally access it.

  5. Shadow Systems Silver badge

    Good. Now we know their names.

    Let's brand "Corporate Shill" on their foreheads so they can't hide that fact, then we can treat their every utterence like the likely paid-for lie that it most likely will be.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good. Now we know their names.

      ... Yeah, that's what we thought. We don't like that. You see, we like our corporate shills in suits.

      That way we can spot 'em just like that. But you take off that suit, ain't no one ever gonna know you were a corporate shill. And that don't sit well with us. So, we're gonna give you a little something you can't take off.

      1. Cynical Observer
        Pint

        Re: Good. Now we know their names.

        @ massivelySerial

        Have a thumbs up and one of these for the Inglorious Basterds reference

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Good. Now we know their names.

        You see, we like our corporate shills in suits.

        Orange ones?

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Good. Now we know their names.

      "Let's brand "Corporate Shill" on their foreheads so they can't hide that fact"

      how about a mandatory mailing of all of their major contributors? One page-full would do [all that stuff is public record]. alternatively, a web page.

      tracking all of the non-profit [shell?] corporations (527, 501(c)(4,6)) that have surfaced because of 'campaign finance reform' (quoted cynically) might be a bit trickier... [how many lead to 'George Soros' for example, like 'MoveOn.org']

      perhaps an alternative would be a mandatory RIBBON BAR worn on the chest, similar to ribbons and medals for military. Each one indicates a major contributor. then whenever a ConGrab-man stands up to speak, you'll see it all on whatever cable network is televising. Heh, yeah, cable network televising Con-Grab. back to THAT again.

  6. Herbert Meyer
    WTF?

    "harm small pay-TV providers"

    There are no small pay-TV providers.

    1. rnturn

      Re: "harm small pay-TV providers"

      The last time I heard of a "small pay-TV provider" was in the '80s and '90s and was a rural cable company in Ohio that the owner ran out of his converted-into-an-office garage. Its coverage was largely limited to a couple of nearby country roads. Last I heard, he wasn't in the business any more, squeezed out by the larger cable operators.

  7. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Trollface

    Hey! Rent's not cheap, you know!

    Consumers have to pay to rent cable boxes so that cable companies can afford to rent congresspersons!

    (I swear, El Reg journos have no idea how economics work)

  8. cyberpenguin2
    Unhappy

    Not suprised to see New Mexico's Steve Pearce on the list.

  9. pete 22
    WTF?

    The Onion had the right idea

    They ran an article about Americans getting together to hire a lobbyist to represent them in Congress.

    1. Rol Silver badge

      Re: The Onion had the right idea

      If TTIP ever gets signed off, I'd imagine the EU directorate would immediately relocate to America to be close to where EU policies are formulated.

    2. KR Caddis
      Big Brother

      Re: The Onion had the right idea

      Every politically sanchize ripoff of the public relies on an inherent inability to organize an opposition; a nation of sheep herded by hungy wolves.

  10. waldo kitty
    Windows

    wait... what??

    we used to buy these boxes from Radio Shack when they were still something and before the cable companies started encoding their traffic... now folks are wanting a complete reversal? i can see that... satellite broadcasters are next ;)

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "60 congressmen, largely Republican..."

    Says it all really...

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: "60 congressmen, largely Republican..."

      "Says it all really..."

      not the 'republican' part, just the 'congressmen' part. cong-grab needs an enema. [not soap-boxing any more on this, as the rest would be obvious - yeah I'm a Trump supporter]

  12. siluri

    FREE BOXES IN THE UK??

    Here in the UK you got a few companies that supply boxes from Sky, TalkTalk, VirginTV to BT and they are a cross between Cable,Terrestrial to Satellite arw free if you subscribe for 18 months and you own the boxes after that but I was going to write a huge piece on all the goodies we get in the UK and how you Americans are being screwed but I realize that I don't have to its already on wikipedia for you all to read under UK TV should get you there enjoy don't get to jealous especially the new SKY Q 4K

    1. annodomini2
      Thumb Down

      Re: FREE BOXES IN THE UK??

      Virgin boxes remain property of Virgin, and you have to return them if you cancel, so they are in effect rented.

      1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

        Re: FREE BOXES IN THE UK??

        > Virgin boxes remain property of Virgin, and you have to return them if you cancel,

        > so they are in effect rented.

        But once you use them they wouldn't be virgin anymore.....

        I'll see myself out.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: FREE BOXES IN THE UK??

      Only Sky lets you keep the box - and not if you go for Sky Q - as that's leased too.

      I believe BT and TalkTalk will want the box back if you cancel, and Virgin certainly does. You can't use them without the appropriate TV service from that company anyway, unlike a Sky box which will let you watch the free to air channels.

      The only real advantage the UK has is that the TV companies generally don't charge for hardware. You certainly can't buy a generic satellite box, put in your Sky card, and watch the channels you pay for (not without breaking the Sky terms and conditions anyway)

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    Sigh! The good ole days of swap-meet STB's! Take home, chip, install and enjoy the fruits of my labor. What amazes me is the FTC and CPUC is run by Dems. Why haven't hey said, NFW? Oh, I am sure it is the best interest of the customer!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    WHY?

    this whole argument is silly there already an open standard for cable boxes, it called OCAP, stands for Open Cable Application Platform, it been around since 2007. most cable providers already have the ability to add custom equipment,

    also based on the standard was Tru2Way, which was a cable card that could support all the features a set top box does, problem no TV manufacturer except Panasonic used it, because they burned themselves releasing cablecard 1.0 before the standard was ratified, which they lost a lot of money on it when the standard changed right before it released.

    Similar issues with cable boxes there is nothing to prevent any manufacturer from making a box for retail sale, everything already supports it. The reason the haven't is 2 fold: 1 they don't have the production capacity to supply catv providers with boxes and the retail market. 2. the few that could dont have any incentive, they already have a steady vertical market, without having to deal with wholesalers etc.there is also not enough demand for it to be worth the trouble. that being said you can occiaonlly see catv box in a retail setting, but they are not common.

  15. zerowaitstate

    Small pay-TV providers

    Is that a thing that still exists? I thought the FCC just inked a deal bringing the number of cable companies in the US to two (maybe three).

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Small pay-TV providers

      keep in mind that a cable provider typically has a 'localized monopoly'. I can only get Time Warner, and with their new merger, I'm sure that customer service will suffer somehow. TWC has recently been bragging (in ads) about improved service, raised their rates a couple of times, and switched us all over to digital cable boxen. The 'rent' is free... for now. Will be $/month at some point (for the cheap, featureless box).

      Since the switchover I've noticed malfunctioning channels on more than one occasion, had them try to bill me for a tech visit post-self-install [caused by their screwed up database] because the boiler plate said "let me send a tech over" [week later] tech arrives, "I know what's going on" makes a phone call, it's fixed. THAT kind of thing (then they try to BILL ME for THEIR f-up). And some of the channels had WRONG aspect ratios that couldn't be corrected. And I can't disable channels I never want to see, like MSNBC or a spanish-language channel or whatever (so channel surfing MUST scan THROUGH them). And re-scan doesn't stop 'the weather channel' from popping up an irritating 'malfunction' message.

      And let's not forget the occasional stutters, pixelization, and black screens that seem to happen now that it's "all digital". Analog didn't really have THOSE problems...

      Maybe it's time to force cable companies to allow others to use THEIR WIRES (at a reasonable fee, of course), similar to the way it happened with telcos. And now it's working with POWER COMPANIES (using the local utility's lines to deliver THEIR power THEY generate, usually solar).

      But yeah, utilities are like that. They're "regulated" but not necessarily in OUR favor...

      (and I've never seen a 'small pay-TV provider', not even once)

      1. RedneckMother

        Re: Small pay-TV providers

        @bombastic bob

        "Maybe it's time to force cable companies to allow others to use THEIR WIRES..."

        Hmm, WHOSE wires? Who REALLY paid for the wires? I suspect that taxpayers did, in the long run.

        What a fustercluck.

  16. Wolfclaw Silver badge

    Good to see the Cable companies are getting their money out of their pet politicians they bought, polticial corruption out in the open and legalised !

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