The FCC's proposal would shake up what has traditionally been a relatively limited market, Wheeler said. I asked him whether he would consider buying one of these newfangled cable boxes for himself. (Jump ahead to 5:45 in the video to see this part.)
"Well today, I have no choice," he said. "I'd love to have choice. I have choice in my cellphones, I have choice in my smart TVs, I have choice in my tablets, I have choice in my laptops. I have choice in everything except the device the cable company says I must have in order that I can pay them for their service."
Wheeler declined to say who his current cable provider is. And he was similarly mum when I asked if he'd ever thought about cutting the cord. But he said consumers need a "competitive choice" in set-top boxes so that they can access their shows more easily.
Cable companies are pushing back on Wheeler's proposal. In a blog post last month, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association said the FCC chairman's proposal merely serves tech companies that want a slice of the pay-TV pie.
"They want to sell you an access device that you don’t need in order to give you content you already receive," NCTA wrote. "In order to do so, they need the FCC to force content creators and distributors via a mandate to give up their rights to distribute content as they wish."
Industry officials have also pointed out that alternatives to the cable box already exist. A TiVo Bolt, for example, gives you access to your whole cable lineup, as well as a DVR for recording shows, and the ability to skip commercials.
But to take advantage of all it has to offer, there are still a few hoops to jump through. You have to plug in a special adapter from your cable provider and pay TiVo a yearly fee of $149 (though that fee is waived for the first year). Oh, and that's after you shell out $300 for the device itself.
That there aren't more options available at a lower cost is what has Wheeler — a former top cable lobbyist himself — so exercised. And in his view, the root cause is that the cable industry enjoys too much say over your hardware.
"The only reason you have all those different [remote] controls," he said, "is because nobody's opened up the system to say, 'Cable needs to share.' "