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Comcast Will Let Some Cable Customers Ditch the Set-Top Box

National Cable and Telecommunications Association Cable ShowNational Cable and Telecommunications Association Cable Show
The Comcast XI3 cable box held for a photograph during the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) Cable Show in Washington, D.C., U.S., on June 11, 2013.Photograph by Andrew Harrer — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Comcast will soon offer some of its customers access to cable without the need to lease a proprietary cable box—a move that comes as federal regulators move toward new rules that could phase out those set-top boxes.

The cable giant said Wednesday that it is launching a new program that will give some Comcast (CMCSA) customers the ability to watch the provider’s television services through an online app that won’t require the use of a traditional set-top box. The program, called the Xfinity TV Partner program, will initially be available only to Comcast customers who own a Roku streaming device or Roku TV, or a Samsung Smart TV.

Comcast said it is looking to partner with additional device makers to make its app more widely available to its customers. The goal, Comcast SVP Mark Hess said in a blog post announcing the new program, is “to provide our customers with even more choice in where and how they access and enjoy the Xfinity TV experience.”

Customers who are able to use the new app will still need to subscribe to a cable TV package through Comcast’s Xfinity cable and Internet brand.

Comcast’s announcement comes in the wake of recent proposals by the Federal Communications Commission to overhaul U.S. telecom rules that cover TV set-top boxes. The FCC wants to make it easier for American cable customers to choose between the cost of leasing a provider’s set-top box versus opting to use a competing company’s box or even a cable app.

Noting the FCC’s recent technical advisory, Comcast called the regulators’ efforts “unnecessary” in the blog post due to the fact that industry members are already busy testing out alternatives to the traditional set-top box. “The FCC’s proposed set-top box mandate threatens to undermine this highly-dynamic marketplace, create substantial costs and consumer harms, and will take years to develop—only to be likely outdated by the time it reaches the marketplace—all in an effort to achieve what apps are already delivering for consumers,” Comcast’s Hess wrote in the post.