Comcast customers won’t need cable box with upcoming apps

The federal government is pushing an effort to give consumers more choice when it comes to the cable TV boxes that control which channels they watch.

Comcast says later this year customers won’t need a cable box to watch cable as the company follows its rivals in offering TV-watching apps.

The announcement has interesting timing. It comes as the federal government works on new rules that would force the TV industry to let technology companies — say, TiVo or Google — sell cable boxes, too. Consumers typically pay cable companies extra fees for these boxes, and the cable industry is opposed to the effort. The industry says apps that companies are rolling out show that the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t need to act.

Comcast is going to launch an app on the streaming-TV gadget Roku that takes the place of a cable box. Time Warner Cable and Charter, which is buying Time Warner Cable, also have Roku apps that sub for cable boxes. Time Warner Cable’s is only available in and near New York City. Comcast is also working on a cable-TV app for Samsung smart TVs.

Comcast, the largest cable provider in the Charleston region, doesn’t say when the apps will be available. Only people in places where Comcast provides TV service could get it.

Comcast Corp. has already played with delivering cable service without a box. It has a TV service for phones, computers and tablets called Stream that is, for now, available only in and around Boston and Chicago.

Stream has raised the hackles of net-neutrality advocates because using it doesn’t count against the data caps that Comcast has in some areas — they think this could make customers prefer Comcast’s own TV service over, say, streaming Netflix, which would count against a cap. (Net neutrality is the concept that internet service providers should treat all traffic equally.)

The upcoming Comcast TV apps also wouldn’t count against a Comcast Internet data cap, which is usually 300 gigabytes. If you go over it, you pay extra.