Published: December 2013

Bill would drive up cable prices and reduce consumers’ choice

H.R. 3196 would greatly reduce the FCC’s ability to protect consumers, promote competition and spur innovation in the video device market.

Most customers who receive digital cable programming and services today are subject to a very large, below-­‐the-­‐line fee of this sort: a monthly charge to rent a set-­‐top box from their cable operator. This can add $10, $20 or even more every month to a customer’s bill above and beyond the advertised monthly service rate. Congress decided in 1996 that cable customers should have a choice in the matter, and should be able to buy their own set-­‐top boxes rather than pay these exorbitant rental fees.

Section 629 of the Communications Act directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure that customers can buy their own video equipment that is capable of receiving and decrypting cable signals – from manufacturers and retailers that aren’t affiliated with the cable operators themselves – and avoid the hidden cost of equipment rentals. This means that customers should be able to buy their own set-­‐top boxes, but also be able to access cable content with compatible TVs and devices such as DVRs, Blu-­‐Ray players, and video game consoles. The principle of "common reliance" guarantees that cable operators will not roll out new features or services on their systems that will only work with the cable operator’s own set-­‐top boxes.The FCC rules, however, do not prevent cable operators from upgrading their networks, providing new services, offering new content, or rolling out new devices of their own. It merely ensures that all cable services and features remain available to consumers who choose not to rent a set-­‐top box from their cable provider.

H.R. 3196 would undermine the existing CableCARD system that so many viewers depend on today, and by stripping the FCC’s authority to adopt common reliance rules, makes it difficult for the FCC to ever implement the mandates of Section 629 using any technological standard. Consumer Action and advocate organizations urge the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology and members of Congress to oppose H.R. 3196 because it would harm consumers, eliminate competition, and hold back video innovation.



Lead Organization

Public Knowledge

Other Organizations

Consumer Action | Consumers Union | Free Press | National Consumers League | Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation Public Knowledge

More Information

For more information, please visit Public Knowledge.

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Bill would drive up cable prices and reduce consumers’ choice   (Consumer_Groups_Latta_Bill_letter_FINAL.pdf)




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