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Charter to Cut Off CableCARD Support

CableCARD

Abandoned by its benefactor, the Federal Communications Commission, two years ago, and still in use in only a small fraction of U.S. homes, the CableCARD appears to be facing outright extinction. 

Charter Communications sent notices to its CableCARD-carrying customers in June, notifying them that support for the devices will be interrupted pending a network upgrade. 

In its email to customers, Charter said a network upgrade occurring in select markets will “deliver more capacity and faster speeds.” However, the PC cards that let subscribers watch their Spectrum TV-branded cable TV service on third-party set-tops manufactured by companies including TiVo and SiliconDust are incompatible with the upgrade and will no longer work. 

Charter encouraged these customers to consider using the Spectrum TV app for Apple TV, offering them 50% off Apple's pricey but premium connected TV device. The MSO also offered to lease affected customers a Charter set-top with cloud DVR for free for two years. (Pretty good lookin' out for its customers, if you ask us.)

Notably, the email represents somewhat of a vague threat — Charter didn't provide any timelines for when CableCARD access in unspecified select markets would be interrupted, saying only that the stoppage is “months away.” And the cable company said nothing about the support stoppage being permanent. 

SiliconDust CTO Nick Kelsey told TechHive that Charter is performing “high splits” of network nodes in some markets in order to increase upstream capacity, and that the frequency modulation of CableCARDs stand in the way of those adjustments. 

But it is possible to still make CableCARDs work on a network with high-split upgrades, Kelsey noted. And a Charter rep told the tech pub that the cable operator is indeed working on a solution to enable CableCARD use at some point down the road. 

Both SiliconDust and TiVo parent Xperi say they'll keep manufacturing CableCARD-compatible boxes. 

Less than 1% of Charter's remaining 15.7 million pay TV customers still use CableCARDS, the cable company said. With Charter customers now able to access their cable subscriptions via the Spectrum TV app on a broad array of third-party connected TV and mobile devices, it's questionable as to how many CableCARD customers would return to their legacy set-tops following any lengthy service interruption. 

Creation of the CableCARD was mandated as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and designed to force cable operators to provide their customers a choice of using third-party set-tops. 

Deployment of CableCARDS peaked at around 55 million boxes in 2016. In 2020, however, the FCC abandoned its effort to regulate "video navigation devices" through CableCARDs. ▪️

Daniel Frankel
Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!