Monthly charge for Genie Clients? Is that fair?

How much do you pay for a cable or satellite box? If you’re a DIRECTV customer in 2019, you pay about $7 per month for each receiver after the first one. For cable customers, that price is often higher, with some customers paying $25 per month just for a DVR.

It used to be that cable subscribers got off easier.

There was a time that if you didn’t want a cable box you didn’t have to use one. Since the mid-1980s, all TVs in the US have “cable-ready” tuners meaning that as long as cable TV signals were broadcast without encryption you didn’t need a box. This was a good solution for people who only wanted basic services like local channels.

In 2012 the FCC decided that cable companies may encrypt basic channels. Every cable company does this now. This means every television served by cable TV needs a set top box. What if you don’t want to pay that long term fee? What if you just want to watch TV?

Where cable failed

Cable companies were required at one point to offer open technologies like CableCard or Tru2Way that give access to cable services to anyone who buys a compatible box. However, both of these technologies failed in the marketplace. Some cable companies do have apps that run on a streaming box and this is the closest you can come to using cable TV without paying per TV.

AT&T’s strategy

DIRECTV was never required to offer this sort of accommodation. Cable TV companies are often considered utility companies. Cable companies use underground conduits and utility poles, and are granted exclusive contracts in the cities where they operate. Because satellite doesn’t have an of those special considerations, they aren’t bound by the same rules.

AT&T does charge a fee for every room in which you use a Genie client or receiver. You’re not charged for the first one, and if you have a Genie 2 you’re not charged for the actual Genie 2 box on a monthly basis. They have done this sort of thing since the beginning. Before there were Genie clients, they had the same policy for receivers. In fact if you still use old-school receivers instead of Genie clients this policy still applies.

It’s tempting to dismiss this as a “because they can” fee especially since AT&T doesn’t have an app for streaming boxes like other providers. (I’m not quite sure why they don’t, since they have one for phones and tablets.) But consider that a lot of those client boxes were provided free of charge. Even those which we offer at Solid Signal are still subsidized by the company. The $7 per month charge helps keep the company profitable. There’s nothing wrong with profit. When you look at it that way it seems like a much more fair deal.

Is there any way to avoid the charge?

Some people use the DIRECTV app for phones and tablets and cast to a TV. This does give you access to over 120 channels and tons of on-demand content. But it’s really not a great experience. It seems to me the better thing to do is just skip one latte a month and pay for those mirroring charges.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.