Obama to Help Push for Open Market for Cable Set-Top Boxes

Obama to Help Push for Open Market for Cable Set-Top Boxes

WASHINGTON — President Obama will announce on Friday his support for opening the market for cable set-top boxes, singling out the devices in millions of homes as a clunky and outdated symbol of corporate power over consumers as he introduces a broad federal effort to increase competition.

In an unusual step, Mr. Obama will weigh in personally on a pending proposal at the Federal Communications Commission, filing comments that encourage it to loosen cable companies’ grip on the boxes. And he will sign an executive order calling on every federal agency to send him proposals within 60 days for steps they can take to promote competition in a range of industries and better protect consumers.

The F.C.C. proposal would allow subscribers to choose and purchase the devices they use to view television programming, instead of leasing the boxes from their cable companies at an average annual cost of $231. The F.C.C. approved the proposal in February, starting a 60-day comment period that will soon close.

“This just seemed like a clear-cut case where you could get a win for consumers and a win for innovation,” said Jason Furman, the chairman of Mr. Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. The president, he added, wanted to use the set-top box issue “as an example to lend greater lift” to his push to get federal agencies to propose new rules to create more competition in their areas.

The announcements represent the latest moves by Mr. Obama to push back against the forces of consolidation and monopoly and to shift power away from large corporations in an array of industries.

The president’s aides gave no examples of the kinds of rules Mr. Obama would like to see agencies propose in response to the executive order. Mr. Furman said White House officials had already notified the agencies of the coming call for recommendations, so some of the regulations were already underway.

Among the supporters of the set-top box proposal are technology giants like Google, Amazon and Apple, which are eager to establish a broader foothold in the TV market. The cable industry is opposed, calling it a giveaway to wealthy tech companies.

In a blog post, Mr. Furman and Jeffrey D. Zients, the director of the National Economic Council, called the set-top box rule the “mascot” for Mr. Obama’s new pro-competition executive order.

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