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This article was published on February 1, 2017

Comcast to charge subscribers to use Roku as a cable box [Updated]

Comcast to charge subscribers to use Roku as a cable box [Updated]
Bryan Clark
Story by

Bryan Clark

Former Managing Editor, TNW

Bryan is a freelance journalist. Bryan is a freelance journalist.

Comcast yesterday announced its launching a beta program that allows Roku users to ditch their cable box. That’s the good news. The bad news, spotted by Variety, is that it isn’t going to come free.

Last year, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler followed through on a congressional order to carve a path toward ending set-top box monopolies. At the time, consumers were spending an average of $231 a year on required hardware rentals — rentals they didn’t necessarily want. Worse, they never actually owned the hardware. It was a dream scenario for cable companies that saw consumers renting first-party hardware indefinitely while locking them out of better, and cheaper, options like Roku and AppleTV.

The plan to open up the cable box market was a popular one; Obama even gave it a thumb’s up.

Comcast, perhaps sensing the end was near for its $9.95 a month set-top box rental, opted to give in and allow third-party hardware users what they wanted: the ability to ditch their cable box. And that ability, announced yesterday, started with a beta version of the Xfinity TV app for Roku.

The trial is free, and available to all existing customers with Comcast cable and internet service. Once it ends, though, you’ll be hit monthly with “additional outlet charges.” According to Comcast:

Customers will not pay equipment charges with respect to their use of Roku devices. All other fees associated with a customer’s service will apply, except that, during the Beta trial, additional outlet charges for services to outlets connected to Roku devices are being waived. On conclusion of the trial, you will be informed of the charges that will apply for connecting this device with your XFINITY TV service and will have the opportunity to opt in.

Additional outlet charges are currently billed at $7.45 per month, and that’s on top of the $9.95 you’re paying for a set-top box rental. It’s unclear at this time what the fee will be for Roku users intending to drop the box entirely — or if that’ll even be an option. For now, it doesn’t seem to be:

To use the XFINITY TV Beta app on Roku, you must currently subscribe to XFINITY TV and XFINITY Internet service, have at least one Comcast-provided TV box, a CableCARD and have a compatible IP gateway in your home.

You don’t get to be a two-time ‘Worst Company in America‘ award winner for caring.

Update: A Comcast representative reached out to clarify that Roku owners, for the time being, would pay $9.95 for the Xfinity set-top box and $9.95 for the additional outlet charge the Roku requires. However, the fee drops to $7.45 (for the second outlet) once you factor in a $2.50 credit offered by Comcast. Still, though, for the entirety of the beta period, users will be required to keep both the Xfinity box rental and pay an additional fee for Roku. 

Once the beta period ends, the representative tells TNW that the user could forego the Xfinity box. As for when it ends, that’s unknown at this time.

While better than nothing, it still raises questions about why users are paying this fee (upon the end of the beta period) for equipment they already own. With the Xfinity set-top box, Comcast could justify it as an equipment rental. If you choose to drop the box after the beta period, it’s unclear what the justification is for charging customers to use their own hardware.