Sep 13 2011

Feinstein Calls on Cable, Satellite Companies to Offer Energy-Efficient Boxes

‘Always on’ set-top boxes, digital video recorders cost consumers $2 billion in wasted electricity annually

Washington—In a letter to the CEO’s of the country’s largest cable and satellite providers, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has called for the phase-out of energy inefficient set-top boxes and digital video recorders, urging instead the introduction of models that can reduce consumer utility bills.

“These ‘always on’ boxes do not have meaningful standby or sleep modes and operate at near full power 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Feinstein wrote to subscription television providers in California. “As a result, these boxes cost households $3 billion annually in utility bills, with $2 billion of that expense incurred when boxes are not actively in use.”

The 15 companies receiving the letter include AT&T, Brighthouse Networks, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox, DirecTV, Dish Network, Earthlink, Mediacom, Northland Telecommunications, Suddenlink Communications, TimeWarner Cable, Verizon Communications and Wildblue Communications.

 Full text of the letter follows:

September 8, 2011

I am writing to urge you to sell and lease set-top boxes and digital video recorders (DVRs) with power-save modes in lieu of the current boxes you provide to television subscribers. Currently, the standard boxes provided to Californians are always consuming large amounts of electricity, regardless of customer use. These boxes cost American consumers billions of dollars in unnecessary electricity costs and increased pollution. I encourage you to work within your industry to phase these products out as quickly as possible.

Recent studies have estimated that set-top boxes and DVRs consume astronomical amounts of energy, and may now be one of the largest consumers of electricity in the average American home. These “always on” boxes do not have meaningful standby or sleep modes and operate at near full power 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. As a result, these boxes cost households $3 billion annually in utility bills, with $2 billion of that expense incurred when boxes are not actively in use. In 2010, U.S. set-top boxes consumed 27 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, resulting in 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Some of your European counterparts already utilize more efficient set-top devices. For instance, the Sky Broadcasting Company offers HD DVR sets that use 23 watts when on, 13 watts when in light sleep, and less than 1 watt when in a deep sleep mode. These sets automatically go into a deep sleep at 11 PM, checking every 30 minutes for recording requests entered via smart phone.

Unfortunately, your firm and its competitors in California’s subscription television market frequently provide “always on” set-top boxes or DVRs as the only option to consumers, perhaps because subscription television firms would not reap any of the financial savings associated with more efficient equipment. Energy conscious customers must unplug the entire set-top box in order to save energy, which does not yield a satisfactory user experience. An optimal solution would have new boxes deploy very low levels of power when not in use and include the ability to temporarily wake to record scheduled shows, and receive and store periodic program updates.

According to research by McKinsey and Company, improving consumer electronics efficiency is the single most cost effective means to reduce emissions in the United States. I strongly encourage you to work with your competitors to stop the distribution of “always on” set-top boxes in California. An industry initiative to distribute boxes that use electricity when necessary would greatly benefit consumers, and it could have a substantial impact on energy use almost immediately. If such an initiative does not materialize, the Federal government will have an obligation to regulate the efficiency of these boxes in the interest of American consumers.

I look forward to working with you on this matter.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein

United States Senator

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