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Going through channels

Sarah Gardner Jan 15, 2007

TESS VIGELAND: Most cable TV viewers in this country get their signal through set-top boxes rented out by cable companies. But that could soon change. The nation’s cable operators are scrambling to meet new rules aimed at creating competition for those set-top boxes.

Critics say cable companies have enjoyed a near-monopoly for years and consumers have paid the price. But as Sarah Gardner reports, the nation’s biggest cable operator isn’t willing to concede just yet.

SARAH GARDNER: By July 1st, the FCC wants cable providers to issue set-top boxes that aren’t exclusive to their service. Cable operators make millions of dollars extra renting the boxes. The FCC’s new rule clears the way for consumers to simply buy a box that works with any cable service.

Gigi Sohn at Public Knowledge says it sort of reminds her of the old days and telephones.

GIGI SOHN: AT&T used to rent you the telephone. In the 60s, the FCC said that AT&T could not do that — that they had to open up the market for telephone sales — and as a result, you can buy a telephone incredibly cheaply and there’s a huge, wide variety.

Comcast tried to get a waiver on the new rule, but the FCC’s media bureau denied it. The cable giant will soon appeal that ruling to the full commission. It warns the new delinked boxes could cost consumers twice as much.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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