You're paying too much on cable-box rental fees

You're probably shelling out $230 a year on a settop box, and two senators want to do something about that

Published: July 31, 2015 03:50 PM
The average U.S. household pays nearly $232 a year on cable-box rental fees.

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Think you're shelling out too much on cable-box rental fees each month? So do a couple of U.S. senators, who say the lack of choice when it comes to settop boxes means the average U.S. home spends more than $230 a year on rental fees.

Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) collected data from the top 10 pay-TV providers after Congress reversed an FCC ban on boxes with integrated security that essentially makes those boxes proprietary. This was the basis for the failed CableCard initiative, which was designed to loosen the hold pay-TV companies had on those devices and give consumers lower-cost options. In the end, few consumers took advantage of the move: Of the 47 million CableCards that shipped with cable company boxes, less than 620,000 were deployed. Last year, as part of a satellite TV reauthorization bill, Congress lifted the ban against integrated security.

The two senators, however, remain concerned that cable companies have a monopoly on settop boxes, forcing consumers to pay too much for them. Based on their findings, the average household spends nearly $232 a year on cable-box rental fees. Those leasing a single device pay almost $90 a year, or about $7.40 per month. The senators estimate that pay-TV companies rake in nearly $20 billion each year in cable-box rental fees.

Do you know how much you spend on cable-box rental fees?

If you're fed up with high prices, tell us and other readers by adding a comment below.

Looking for alternatives to your traditional pay-TV service? Learn  how to win at TV,  which takes a look at all the options.

“Consumers should have the same range of choices for their video set-top boxes as they have for their mobile phones,” Markey said in a joint statement issued by the legislators. "When Congress last year regrettably removed the requirement that cable company services be compatible with set-top boxes purchased in the marketplace rather than rented directly from the provider, we doomed consumers to being captive to cable company rental fees forever."

“Consumers deserve protection against hidden, hideously vexing fees for set-top boxes,” added Blumenthal. "Consumers deserve competitive options in accessing technology and television – not exorbitant prices dictated by monopoly cable companies.”

There is, however, some hope on the horizon: The FCC is currently working on a successor to CableCard, which will feature a downloadable security system. Do you think you're paying too much in settop box rental fees? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

—James K. Willcox




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