President Obama Pushes for Better, Cheaper Cable Boxes to Give People More Options to Watch TV

(AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
(AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

President Obama is demanding better, cheaper versions of the cable boxes that millions of Americans use to browse their pay-TV channels, in hopes of enhancing competition.

The Obama administration pressed for changes to the cable box in a letter to federal regulators Thursday night, according to multiple people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the filing is not yet public.

Obama’s move effectively throws the full weight of his office behind the Federal Communications Commission, which has taken the lead role in trying to crack open the market for TV set-top boxes. Millions of Americans pay, on average, more than $200 a year to rent their boxes from a cable or satellite provider.

Greater competition, the administration said in a blog post Friday, will drive down prices and result in more innovative products.

“Instead of spending nearly $1,000 over four years to lease a set of behind-the-times boxes, American families will have options to own a device for much less money that will integrate everything they want — including their cable or satellite content, as well as online streaming apps — in one, easier-to-use gadget,” wrote Jeff Zients and Jason Furman, two of Obama’s top economic advisers.

In addition to supporting the FCC’s proposal, the blog post highlights a connection between a lack of choice among “overpriced products” and the fate of the working class — a timely decision in light of a rising focus in the presidential primary on stagnant wages, labor unions and this week’s continuing strike by roughly 40,000 Verizon employees.

The White House’s push on set-top boxes is part of a wider effort aimed at spurring more aggressive federal action on competition policy. As part of Friday’s announcement, Zients and Furman said Obama would be signing an executive order that requires agencies to take stock of the steps they could make to enhance competition in industry. The agencies will have two months to report back.

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SOURCE: Brian Fung 
The Washington Post

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