Comcast wants to charge customers for not renting a cable box

Last week, Comcast launch its new Xfinity TV app that lets customers stream live and on-demand programming on Roku without the need for a cable box. But it wants to charge customers a $7.45 “access fee” for every TV using the Roku app. That’s the same price Comcast charges customers who use a TiVo or other CableCard device instead of renting a cable box from them (compared to $9.95 to rent each cable box after the first one).

Why is Comcast charging the same price to use an app on your own device as they charge for renting a CableCard—especially when networks like ESPN and HBO have their own Roku apps that let cable subscribers watch programming at no additional charge? Comcast has refused to provide an answer.

Last year, former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed rules requiring cable companies to create an app to provide their programming to third-party equipment makers. Under those rules, Comcast customers would have been able to watch programming on any equipment provider’s device without needing to rent a cable box. But those rules were killed by Ajit Pai, who took over as chairman last month.

Cable companies can still make streaming apps if they wish, but there are no rules on how much they can charge or what devices they must support. Given that cable companies make $20 billion a year off cable box rental fees, they certainly have no incentive to stop charging customers for cable boxes or “access fees” to watch the programming they’re already paying for—even if the customer is providing their own equipment.

And given the FCC’s recent turn against consumers under its new chairman, we can expect cable providers to test the limits of what they can get away with charging,


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