Big Cable broke its promise and you’re paying for it


Cable companies originally probably to give us free apps to watch TV without having to pay for cable boxes. We’re still waiting.

Last June, Big Cable made an appealing offer for viewers and regulators. Companies would provide consumers with free apps to watch TV rather than making them pay monthly fees for cable boxes. But the cable companies didn’t do this out of the kindness of their hearts — they wanted to stop the Federal Communication Commission from passing regulations making them ship apps.

A year after that “Ditch the Box” pledge, two things have changed. There’s now zero threat of federal regulators requiring cable operators to give subscribers free apps to replace rented boxes, and the industry’s “Ditch the Box” plan seems to have disappeared.

What was on the table

Twelve months ago, cable operators had reason to fear that the FCC would crack open the box market.

Those rectangular devices that sit under your TV set compound your cable bill — typically $10 a month for a tuner or $20 a month for a digital video recorder. But that extra fee often buys you a clunky, low-resolution onscreen interface that can’t show more than few channels worth of program listings.

As President Obama told Yahoo Finance in an interview last April: “There hasn’t been much innovation.”

The FCC’s original “Unlock the Box” proposal would have compelled cable and satellite operators to provide some standard framework upon which outside manufacturers and developers could ship their own hardware and software to receive and record a pay-TV feed.

Ditch The Box, as advocated by a cable-led group called the Future of Television Coalition, would have liberated cable and satellite subscribers from many of those those hardware fees by letting them use free, web-based viewing apps on connected TVs and streaming-media players.

The deal did not cover digital video recorders, and satellite viewers would still need one rented box to get the signal from space…

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