Set-top boxes

Senators Move to Keep CableCARD Alive

The battle for the future of CableCARD technology continues.

As reported in several news outlets, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) has joined Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) in lobbying against the Satellite Television Access and Viewer Rights Act (STAVRA) if it retains a provision ending the integrated security ban for set-tops.

STAVRA, which was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in September, is primarily designed to allow satellite operators to beam out-of-market broadcast TV signals to rural areas. However, the bill has been saddled with additional riders, including a mandate that could effectively end the reign of CableCARD, after more than seven years. (See MSOs Struggle With Set-Top Change and Because CableCARD Never Dies.)

The problem with CableCARD technology is that it hasn't lived up to its purpose of creating a booming retail set-top market. By separating out the difficult security function from cable boxes, CableCARD technology was supposed to allow more consumer electronics companies to develop competitive hardware. But that hasn't happened. For a variety of reasons, including technical limitations, retail set-top nirvana never came to be. Instead, CableCARD has mostly been a boon to TiVo and its retail customers who, thanks to CableCARD, can pair their TiVo boxes with pay-TV service.

Want to know more about cable set-top trends? Check out our dedicated set-top box content channel here on Light Reading.

For service providers, however, CableCARD has brought with it enormous costs. Cable companies have argued for years that the technology not only has limited use, but is unnecessary given the growing adoption of IP technology for video delivery. They are cheering the provision in STAVRA that would end the CableCARD requirement… even as Blumenthal and Markey are trying to get rid of it.

The non-profit group Public Knowledge has also come out strongly in favor of removing or at least editing the CableCARD language in the STAVRA bill. Arguing that the end of the CableCARD mandate would harm competition, Public Knowledge recently sent letters to all of the US senators, urging them to "either fix provisions harmful to consumers" in STAVRA, "or refrain from passing the bill at all."

STAVRA is set to expire on December 31, so the clock is ticking away on both it and the CableCARD mandate.

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

jbtombes 11/10/2014 | 11:02:58 PM
Expiration STAVRA's not the only thing fixin' to expire as the year ends. John Thune (R, SD) is likely to take over this committee as Jay Rockefeller heads for the hills of West Virginia (or wherever Rockefellers go when they retire from the Senate) in early January. So for at least next two years, Markey and Blumenthal et al. move into minority role. Then-Congressman Markey was one of the original promoters of CableCard regulation back in 1996, so his continued advocacy is no surprise. It just hasn't turned into the equivalent of the FCC's "Carterphone" decision, as hoped for. Don't think it ever will.
danielcawrey 11/10/2014 | 3:56:01 PM
Regulation Sounds like a lot of regulatory scrutiny. These kinds of things are supposed to be about consumer protections, but this might just go too far. I'm not quite clear how this helps customers other than it costing them more money in the long run. 
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