FCC approves new set-top box rule

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler.
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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler.

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday approved a new rule that would allow consumers to swap cable set-top boxes for less expensive devices in a blow to major cable operators.

The television industry continues to evolve amid a consumer shift to on-demand and streaming services and away from traditional cable packages. The rule effectively increases competition, giving upstart providers like Google parent Alphabet and Apple a leg up.

"Technology allows it, the industry at one time proposed something similar to it, and the consumers deserve a break and a choice," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said.

The measure passed by a 3-2 vote.

Under the rule, makers of alternate devices like Apple TV and TiVo platforms will gain access to cable and satellite programs. Most consumers currently pay large cable companies for their boxes at an average lease cost of more than $200 per year, according to Reuters.

Cable companies like Comcast and Verizon had opposed the measure, maintaining that consumers already enjoyed more choices as the television industry evolved. (Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of CNBC.)

In a blog post, Comcast Senior Executive Vice President David Cohen called the rules "anti-consumer." He contended that they marked a "major step backwards for consumers and the video marketplace."

"Unfortunately, the majority of commissioners have chosen to ignore the many voices of reason and instead to pursue a proposal that strays well beyond the FCC's authority," he wrote.

Verizon did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Reuters contributed to this article.