FCC Acts to Make the Cable Industry More Competitive
FCC Acts to Make the Cable Industry More Competitive
FCC Acts to Make the Cable Industry More Competitive

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    The FCC recently denied NCTA's request for a blanket waiver of the set-top box integration ban. The FCC press release states, “The [Media] Bureau finds the arguments NCTA[] makes are not adequately novel or changed from assertions that it has made to support previous extension requests to justify further relief and [do] not reflect developments in the market.”

    John Eggerton at Broadcasting & Cable gives some details:

    The cable industry has argued that the deadline will force them to deal with the old technology of CableCARD security hardware, which plugs into the boxes or TVs, while it is in the midst of developing a downloadable security system that is cheaper, easier, and more elegant.

    The FCC has concluded, and did again Friday, that while it recognizes the advantages of downloadable security and encourages it, it can't be sure the industry will deliver on the promises of that technology in a timely fashion.

    We applaud the FCC's decision to carry out the intent of Congress by requiring that the security functionality be fully separated from the rest of the set-top box. The best way to ensure that the technology that Cable makes available to third parties is fully supported is to require that cable operators use that same technology themselves.

    The FCC's decision will not solve the problem of two-way compatibility. The cable operators are going to be able to deploy CableCARD devices on their own networks that are capable of two-way communication, but a lack of standardization between networks makes it difficult or impossible for a third-party to create a device that can be used on any network. We look forward to participating in further FCC proceedings to address this matter.

    No one disputes that some software-based security solution is the future. But how long, exactly, would it take for a downloadable security system to be fully deployed? The FCC's decision will bring the benefits of increased support of third-party hardware to the market in the short term.

    Also, there are disputes about the form that future will take. A lot of the opposition to downloadable security (the Downloadable Conditional Access System, or DCAS) has been the way it is tied to the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP). These closed technologies are controlled and licensed by bodies seeking to protect existing business interests. The licensing and certification requirements of these technologies make it impossible for some outside hardware manufacturers to build the kinds of devices they really want to — imagine, for instance, a on-screen program guide that fully integrates the cable operator's video on demand offerings with those from other providers and services like YouTube and Joost. The licensing and certification requirements of the technologies Cable has produced make this kind of integration impossible. Instead, the cable operators would like to maintain their control of the “cable experience,” requiring consumer electronics makers to confine their innovative offerings to separate modes.

    The FCC has been critical of some of the claims made by Cable recently. We also hope that the FCC declines to approve any system that is licensed in a way that requires manufacturers to implement “content protection” technologies that limit consumers' rights to make lawful use of the content they have purchased. The FCC should stay out of copyright. This includes it not giving its blessing to technologies that conflict with constitutionally-protected rights of fair use.

    Very often, public interest advocates overlook the cable industry. We're happy that with regard to the set-top box integration ban, the FCC has acted with the public interest in mind.