WASHINGTON — The cable set-top box, long a scourge of consumers and a moneymaker for cable companies, appears set for a makeover.
The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday announced a proposal allowing cable and satellite subscribers to pick the devices they use to watch programming. Nearly all customers now must get their boxes from their cable companies, and they pay an average of $231 a year to lease the devices.
The move could have broad implications for the industry, allowing Google, Amazon and Apple, for instance, to expand their footprints in the media industry with devices that would blend Internet and cable programming in a way the television industry has resisted. The reactions on Wednesday reflected those possibilities: The technology industry widely cheered the proposal, while the cable industry criticized it.
“It’s time to unlock the set-top box market — let’s let innovators create, and then let consumers choose,” Tom Wheeler, chairman of the F.C.C., wrote of the proposal on the technology news site Recode. The F.C.C. estimates that prices for the devices rose 185 percent over 20 years, even as prices for smartphones and other electronics plunged.
The F.C.C. said the agency’s five commissioners would vote on the proposal on Feb. 18. The proposal will most likely have the support of the three Democratic commissioners, including Mr. Wheeler, and will be opposed by the two Republican commissioners.