The good news is the feature list for set-top boxes should be increasing. Set-Top boxes should also become consumer electronics devices, sold and marketed to the consumer instead of video service providers.
Essentially the reason for the price hike is the FCC is finally enforcing previous rulings which push for user-marketed boxes, whereas the current market is setup so that the various cable companies select the boxes they want to allow their customers to use and only market those boxes to the consumer. This is a problem because you cannot purchase a given box, and even if you could the level of interoperability is low at best. The entire idea of user-marketed and purchasable boxes is driven by the CableCARD standard (by Cable Television Laboratories, Inc.) and by the FCC in an effort separate the marketing of video services and consumer electronics devices. This standard allows for the lease of just a card (roughly PCMCIA in shape and size) and should allow the user to have the card installed into any device of their choosing. Currently the only consumer products I know of that utilize the CableCARD standard are the Series 3 Tivo , ATI's OCUR and some televisions.
Cable firms to raise set-top box rates [via yahoonews]