FCC Broadband Plan: Cable Industry Asked to Adopt Gateway Device to Replace Set-Tops

The FCC wants the cable industry to adopt an open-standard,
"gateway" device to replace current set-tops by the end of 2012, and
in the meantime make a bunch of fixes to its CableCARD regime by next fall, according
to a copy of the FCC's National Broadband Plan, to be officially unveiled Tuesday
(March 16). The cable industry has warned against a one-size-fits-all approach
to set tops.

The FCC wants the new "gateway"--which would be a requirement for all MVPD's--to be a standard
interface that "bridges" conditional access, tuning and reception
functions, with no additional functionality.

The FCC says it should be cheap and allow consumer
electronics companies to sell network-neutral devices that can access content
independent of any particular MVPD or third party, allowing those consumer
electronics companies to design to a common interface, and to open standards.
The device will also need to pass through content protection flags from cable

The commission proposed interim milestones to make sure
operators were gearing up for the switch, and penalties for those who are not installing
the gateways in all new homes, or all box replacements, by Dec. 31, 2012.

In the meantime, the plan will propose rules that require
the cable industry to take steps to make the CableCARD devices more
consumer-friendly. Those include ensuring equal access to channels by leased
and retail boxes; transparent pricing for leased boxes, which means a separate,
itemized charge and comparable discount if they buy a retail box; standard
installation policies for both retail and leased CableCARD devices; and  accelerating the certification process for
CableCARD devices.

The FCC attempted to spur a market in retail boxes by
mandating that the industry unbundle the channel-security functions from the
channel-surfing functions in the boxes, but says there were numerous obstacles,
which the above-proposals are intended to fix.

The plan proposes to connect 100 million households to 100
Mbps broadband downstream and 50 Mbps upstream by 2020, and to make affordable
broadband available to everyone via the moving of numerous government levers.

It is also looking at pilot projects for government-funded
free or low-cost broadband service along the lines of the Lifeline and Linkup
subsidies for telephone service.

Among the other highlights are reform of the migration of
the Universal Service Fund to broadband, including by big changes to inter-carrier
compensation; freeing up 500 Mhz of spectrum by 2020, and 300 MHz by 2015, with
120 MHz of that coming from broadcasters.

The commission also plans to establish broadband technical
performance standards and institute a rulemaking on disclosure of performance
for broadband providers.

The FCC is proposing that it get together with the FTC to
develop joint privacy principles that require "informed consent"
before broadband service providers share some kinds of data with third parties.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.