That Box Your Cable Company Forces You to Rent

If you’re a pay-TV subscriber you’re probably shelling out hundreds of dollars a year for that little box your cable company forces you to rent. Without that box, you can’t watch Jane the Virgin, Silicon Valley, 24-hour news channels or whatever programming you’re addicted to.

This is just one of the many ways in which cable companies have a lock on what we see — and don’t see — on our TV screens.

But now the FCC is considering a proposal that could lower your monthly cable bill and let you access a truly diverse range of programming not only on your TV screen but on all of your devices.

Right now cable providers like Comcast rake in $20 billion a year from set-top box rentals. But this isn’t just about money; it’s also about gatekeeper power. These boxes control the programming that comes into our homes. This allows cable providers to shut down competition — and prevent programming and channels made and owned by people of color from reaching wider audiences.

The FCC’s proposal would allow competitors to build set-top boxes that you could buy outright. It would also give you new ways of accessing cable channels and online streaming video from creators who have been excluded from traditional cable lineups. This could put streaming Internet content on your cable box and also let you watch your cable channels on devices like your cellphone, tablet or laptop.

Video programmers of color have been routinely marginalized, and many have turned to the Internet to create and distribute their content and build their audiences. Giving these programs access to more screens and more viewers could have a major impact at a time when racism and xenophobia are running rampant in our media and our political system.

There are tons of ways in which companies like Comcast (or Charter, or whichever cable provider you’re saddled with) squash competition and create an echo chamber of the same old voices and perspectives. Now we have a chance to push back. Urge the FCC to pass its proposal today.