Barring a presidential pardon, the CableCARD mandate is headed for an inglorious exit.
Late last week the US Senate passed the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR) Act, a compromise bill already approved by the House. In addition to allowing satellite operators to beam out-of-market broadcast TV signals to rural areas, STELAR includes a provision ending the separable security requirement for cable set-tops. Since 2007, cable companies have been under mandate to break out the security function from cable boxes using CableCARD technology. The mandate was supposed to spark retail set-top competition, but it has widely been considered a failure.
President Obama is expected to sign the bill before the existing satellite rules expire at the end of this year. Assuming it becomes law, the integrated security ban for set-tops will sunset at the end of 2015.
Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ed Markey (D-MA) originally lobbied to get the CableCARD provision tossed out of the STELAR Act. But the two senators backed down in order to get the rest of the bill through Congress. (See Senators Move to Keep CableCARD Alive.)
In the private sector, TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) has been one of the biggest proponents of keeping the CableCARD mandate in place. Cable companies, however, have been anxious to see CableCARD go. While the nine largest cable providers in the US have now deployed more than 50 million set-tops with embedded CableCARDs, those same operators have shipped out fewer than 650,000 individual CableCARDs for use in retail devices.
In a statement on the STELAR Act, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) said, "In passing H.R. 5728, the Senate has moved with appropriate speed to prevent consumer disruption and to enact meaningful video reforms. We applaud Chairman Rockefeller and Ranking Member Thune for their leadership and dedication to achieving bipartisan consensus on the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014, including action that will sunset the FCC's outdated and ill-conceived 'integration ban' at long last."
— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading