The ongoing scuffle over launching competitive set top boxes has the FCC, the White House, and wannabe program packagers, like Google, lined up against the cable, satellite and telephone companies, also known as multichannel video programming distributors or MVPDs. The superficial version of the scuffle is whether consumers should have a competitive alternative to paying an average of $89 yearly to rent a set top box. Of course, all things being equal, they should have a competitive choice. But what the FCC wants is not that simple, and in its zeal to score populist points it ignores what makes the industry viable.

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