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By misreading the law, the FCC took away your ability to buy alternative set-top boxes like Tivo and Smart TVs. We think that's wrong.
Congress recognized customers should not have to rely on their cable companies for a set-top box as early as 1996. When they passed the updated Telecommunications Act that year they included Section 629, which required the FCC to make sure consumers would have a choice of video devices, just like they can pick what kind of TV to buy, or what model of wireless handset to use.
Just like your ISP doesn’t make its subscribers use only Macs, or only PCs, your cable company shouldn’t make subscribers use the set-top box it provides.
To implement the law, the FCC and industry created the CableCARD system. Because of CableCARD, you can buy a set-top box at a retail store and plug it into your cable system. The device will still work even if you switch your provider from Comcast to DirectTV later on. This facilitates competition in the subscription TV market by making it easier for people to switch providers. And bringing non-affiliated companies into the set-top box market leads to improvements like the ability to record TV programs.