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legislation is currently on hold because of the Congressional recess, we will continue to urge Congress to sunset this outdated FCC rule.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.