WASHINGTON DC: A recently imposed Federal regulation requiring new cable TV set-top boxes to have a 'cable card' slot has come into effect, although cable companies claim it provides no discernable benefits to viewers.

The Federal Communications Commission intended the hardware enhancement to kick-start competition and encourage consumers to buy the boxes rather than rent them from cable providers.

But the companies say the changes will simply lead to increased charges for viewers because they will have to bear the cost of more expensive boxes which provide no additional features.

Electronics firms, however, believe the new requirements are a breakthrough that could finally help them establish a consumer retail market for alternative set-box devices and other cable card-enabled devices like TVs and PCs.

Comments Michael Fidler, ceo of small electronics firm Digeo: "The enforcement of this rule allows for a very small crack in the door that we can use to get our foot in the market.

"This will help make the set-top box truly portable so it can be installed on any cable operator's network in the country."

Data sourced from Business Week (daily); additional content by WARC staff