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The Problem with Cable TV isn’t Cable Boxes

Last year, Senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut sent a letter to major satellite and cable TV providers inquiring about the cost of the Pay TV Industry’s set top boxes.

After parsing the responses, their findings include:

  • The average household spends $231.82 on set top rentals a year
  • The set-top box rental market makes the pay TV industry about 19.5 billion dollars a year (Yes, billion with a “b”)
  • 99% of customers rent their set top boxes.

This information has spawned a string of  editorials from Time, The New York Times and others decrying the cable companies and demanding something be done about this grievous injustice.

In a piece titled “Let Consumers Use Better, Cheaper Cable Boxes” the Editorial Board at NYTs pleaded:

“Consumers should have a choice of devices, and they should be able to buy the boxes outright or pay for them through their monthly plan. And using a set-top box should not require an electronic card. Surely, cable and tech companies can come up with software that can verify that set-top boxes are being used by paying subscribers.”

Ethan Wolf-Mann (best name EVER) of Time demanded, “TV’s Cable Box Monopoly Needs to be Stopped!” He went on to write:

“This monopoly has not only hurt the consumer’s wallet but the devices themselves. While every other aspect of television has innovated exponentially, the set-top cable box is stuck in an awkward limbo, un-prodded to improve aesthetics or user experience by competition of any kind.”


I love when journalists pile on top of the Pay TV industry, but isn’t this a bit of not seeing the forest for the trees? The list of Pay TVs transgressions against its customers goes much deeper than this.

These are companies that have stooped to extortion, price-gouging, and exhibit downright contempt for their customers. Asking for cheaper, better, cable boxes is a kin to asking a mugger to use a nicer gun while relieving you of all your valuables.

So I emphatically plead with the journalists out there that cover this beat to please stay on point. Write stories about how U.S. residents spend double for internet that’s 8 times slower than China, France, Japan and South Korea.

Write about how governments at all levels enable pay TV company monopolies with sweetheart deals to fill coffers and campaign funds.

Write about how to watch TV without cable.

Pointing out the relatively minor crimes regarding cable boxes, gives cable TV an easy problem to fix. They can improve their tech or offer cheaper options. Perhaps they run a whole mea culpa campaign around the issue. In the end you are just sharpening the wolf’s teeth.

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