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White House calls on the FCC to shake up the cable box business

White House calls on the FCC to shake up the cable box business

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Earlier this year, the FCC moved ahead with a plan to wrench set-top boxes out of the hands of the cable industry, opening up the market to let consumers buy devices from third-party manufacturers. Today, the White House came out strongly in favor of these changes, calling on the FCC to "open up set-top cable boxes to competition." President Obama will even file comments on the FCC's pending proposal, reports The New York Times, a strong sign of the administration's support.

In a blog post, the White House describes how families spend as much as $1,000 over four years to lease clunky devices from cable companies, adding that 99 percent of households get their set-top boxes this way. The blog's authors, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Jason Furman and director of the National Economic Council Jeffrey Zients, compare the situation to the early 1980s, when phone companies had a monopoly on what phones families could use at home. The result, they say, was a range of devices with "little variety [and] only the most basic functionality."

The white house says Competition will lead to innovation in the cable market

"Then, all that changed when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and others took action to open up phones to competition," write Furman and Zients. "This competition and the technological progress it helped drive, led to a proliferation of digital dialing, built-in answering machines, a panoply of styles, cordless phones, and other innovations." The same can happen, they say, to set-top boxes.

But the White House says it's only getting started. Furman and Zients say the set-top box is just the "mascot" for the administration's plan "empower and inform consumers, workers, and entrepreneurs" through pro-competition executive action. This echoes pledges the President made during his last State of the Union address to help these same groups. The blog post ends by calling attention to previous pro-competition legislation the White House has helped support (such as supporting net neutrality and legalizing cellphone unlocking) and promises that more changes are coming.