50 Million Reasons to End the Integration Ban

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Inside your cable set-top box is a device called a CableCARD. It’s small – about the size of a credit card – and its job is to decrypt the video signal so you can watch the TV you pay for. The irony is that cable boxes are capable of doing this without a CableCARD. The reason you have it in your box is a result of an FCC rule called the “integration ban.” This technology mandate prevents cable companies (and cable companies alone) from deploying devices that have decryption technology integrated into the box. Instead, they’re compelled to use these plug-in CableCARDs that waste money and energy, not to mention hinder innovation by making it more difficult to improve cable box technology.

Why would such a strange, selectively applied, obsolete rule exist? It’s because third party devices like TiVo use CableCARDs and the makers of these devices are concerned that if cable-leased cable boxes don’t use CableCARDs, then cable companies won’t support them in retail devices.

While this may all sound harmless enough, since 2007 cable operators have deployed set-top boxes with more than 50 million CableCARDs installed in them which should be plenty of insurance that CableCARDs work. Those 50 million CableCARDs have cost consumers over $1 billion in unnecessary costs and waste 500 million kilowatts of energy each year.

By contrast, cable operators have supplied about 623,000 CableCARDs to cable customers for use in retail CableCARD-enabled devices. In other words, the number of third party devices that actually use CableCARDs is miniscule compared to the number that cable companies are using. So this rule isn’t protecting third party device makers, it’s really just a burden on cable providers and customers.

The good news for consumers is that leaders in Congress have proposed to end this unnecessary and costly technology mandate for how to build cable-leased set-top boxes. Legislation has already been passed in the House and by the Senate Commerce Committee that would eliminate the integration ban. While progress on this legislation is currently on hold because of the Congressional recess, we will continue to urge Congress to sunset this outdated FCC rule.

Cable operators have enabled devices like tablets, computers, and Smart TVs to receive cable content using a variety of technologies. None of these devices use CableCARDs, none rely on techniques mandated for use in the cable operator’s leased set-top boxes, no FCC rule required this outcome, and they all have been wildly successful. So why not cable-leased boxes?

We want customers to access cable content however they want. And if that means supporting CableCARDs to decrypt video signals in retail devices and in the 50 million leased devices already in service, then that’s exactly what we’ll do. But forcing cable operators – and cable operators alone – to use CableCARDs in leased devices benefits no one, least of all the consumers this rule arguably seeks to serve.

  • Scotttie9876

    You say “We want customers to access cable content however they want” but is that really true??? If it was, then I’d be able to get my Comcast channels on my Roku or on my Chromecast. Surely if that was true I’d be able to get the services of the largest cable company on the most popular media streaming devices in the world, no?

    I can’t even get HBO Go on my Roku and HBO Go is a supported
    app on that device! That’s because Comcast won’t allow it and refuses to give any credible reason why. I could get HBO Go on Roku if I was an AT&T customer or a Verizon customer or a TWC customer or even a customer of little BendBroadband but not Comcast, the largest cableco in the country and one that will soon control services to 1/3 of all cable subscribers.

    Tell the truth now … you guys don’t *really* want us to
    have access to your content however we want do you? You want us to have access to only some of your content, only on devices you approve and only using apps and experiences you develop. You have no desire whatsoever to let us get these services on anything else, especially any devices that deliver cable content but using its own user experience.

    How about getting cable channels and VOD on an Xbox One with the Xbox guide? Or using Plex or XBMC on a PC with their UI? Or on a new Android TV devices with their UI? Those would be examples of giving us access to the content we want, how we want it. Are you willing to let us to that?

  • Customers want TiVO. Why? Because the cable industry for the most part has atrocious TV screens and guides.

    So, why can’t they get TiVO again?

  • Andy

    Tablets, computers, and smart TVs do not have important *DVR* functionality without cablecards. An important fact this corporate lobby group (NCTA) ignores. Cable and satellite providers want to force you to pay for *their* expensive equipment if you want to record anything.

    They refuse to offer any alternative to cablecard to maintain recording compatibility with equipment you can buy and own yourself.

    Remember back in the 70’s when AT&T was found to be an illegal monopoly while it forced you to RENT your telephones from them? How stupid does that idea sound in 2014? The NCTA and their corporate backers want to retain 1970-like monopoly control over the equipment you use to record the TV you pay for.

    Consumers need CableCards to protect their right to record the TV they pay for on their own equipment until the NCTA’s benefactors provide a universal technological alternative.

  • Jason L

    “About NCTA – NCTA is the principal trade association for the U.S. cable industry”

    I believe “trade association” is an apt euphemism for “lobbying group.” This article is at best propaganda, and at worst deceitful. The cable industry would love to see retail device manufacturers fail, and the surest way for that to happen is to prevent them from using signals for which customers have paid. As a long-time TiVo user, I have been amazed at the lengths my providers (Mediacom, Comcast, and Brighthouse at various times) have gone to prevent things from working. Brighthouse, for example, prevents *any* streaming out of home except for local channels.

    Want to end cablecard requirements? Fine. Then accept a modern, open, two-way, and freely licensable alternative that encourages real competition, and allows new and novel products.

  • Scotttie9876

    NCTA, why don’t you respond to some of these questions?

    Do you really want us to have access to your content however we want or will we be limited to only the devices you approve and the apps you develop?

    Why can’t we get any services on Roku if we’re Comcast customers?

    When will hugely popular devices like PlayStation and Xbox deliver all cable services from all cable companies?

  • Munho

    It is obvious why the FCC has mandated CableCARD interface.

    This is a social commitment for all stakeholders such as subscribers, service operators, MVPD manufacturers and application providers.

    If one of stakeholders don’t accept this technology standard, US broadcasting and media markets will go back into the past.
    And innovative service infrastructure will not happen anymore such as Korean cable market.

    It’s a minimum environment to leaves it open the common connection interface for the nurturing echo system in which potential services may be developed.

    However, the CableCARD technology should be developed for new IP and IoT service era and be changed the name like as Euro DVB-CI CAM.