When you set up an account with a cable or satellite provider, you have to also obtain a device to actually decode the information and send it to your TV set. In the old days, a set would be “cable ready” by offering extra analog channels for non-premium cable content. Not so in the days of digital, where each provider has their own system to deliver digital content, which sort of forces you to buy or lease their own hardware.
Now in theory there’s an exception, at least for cable in the U.S. (but not satellite), and that’s the CableCARD. This is a secure ID card that allows a third-party set-top box to decrypt content from the cable guy. But the cable guy installs them reluctantly. I heard one story where someone wanted two, for two set-top boxes. So the cable company installed them, but one didn’t work. No, the customer couldn’t just install it without a technician, an absurd concept.
Now you’d think they’d take back the faulty card and replace it, right? No, instead they insisted that they could only install the pair, and thus took back both and returned with another pair. Again, one card failed. This crazy routine continued for a while until the customer gave up, which may have been the plan.