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The FCC Wants To Open The Doors To A Smarter, Better Cable Box

The FCC Wants To Open The Doors To A Smarter, Better Cable Box
IMAGE: KIM KULISH/CORBIS

The cable box — a staple of any household that pays for television programming since the late ’80s — may finally be loosening its stranglehold on the way we consume TV. That is, if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has anything to say about it.

FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler announced today the agency was putting forth a proposal to turbocharge competition and innovation regarding cable boxes. The goal, Wheeler says in an op-ed on Re/Code, is to give consumers more choice when picking the equipment they use to watch the channels they pay for.

The proposal says consumers should have the choice of watching programming on their set-top box or any other device, including smartphones, tablets and even a set-top box built by a third party. It specifies that cable and satellite companies should be required to provide three things to manufacturers looking to build a competing device:

  • Service discovery, which includes program guides and search
  • Entitlements, which tells the device what it can do with the content
  • The content itself

In theory, the opening-up of the set-top box would encourage hardware manufacturers to make their own equipment, and pay-TV subscribers could choose one based on which had the best user experience (though presumably the option to lease a default model from the cable company would still exist). The proposal doesn’t cite DVR content specifically — traditionally a sticking point when it comes to cable-box alternatives — but an FCC spokesperson told Mashable DVRs are covered by the “entitlements” provision.

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