These days, if you want to get full-featured cable or satellite television, you typically need to pay not just for the television service itself, but for a rented set-top box from your television provider. This is an easy and lucrative stream of revenue for cable and telecom companies, with consumers paying an average of $230 a year in rental fees for relatively unsophisticated boxes.
The Obama administration wants to change that, and will at 9 am release a formal request that the Federal Communications Commission require pay television providers to open that market up to competition. They're not asking for any particular technical solution, but they want an enforceable guarantee that there will be some way for third parties to make and sell cable boxes.
They anticipate that this will save consumers money. But more importantly, if it happens it will turn a stagnant element of the electronics landscape into an innovative one. Future iterations of the XBox, Playstation, Roku, Apple TV or other integrated media streamers could serve as complete substitutes for cable boxes. Or maybe ultra-cheap low-feature boxes will emerge to serve customers who really just want a traditional linear cable experience.