FCC Has To Correct CableCARD Order

The FCC has issued a bunch of corrections/clarifications
to its CableCARD order, including allowing operator-supplied low-cost, one-way set-top boxes to have an IP interface but only so long as the IP connection isn't used to access a cable operator's VOD and DVR services.

The commission adopted rules last October
to improve its CableCARD regime while it contemplates mandating a new, universal
set-top that would wed online and traditional video.

Those included ensuring that operators support accessing
switched digital video by retail devices, prohibiting box price discrimination,
requiring the option of consumer self-installation of the cards, giving
consumers information on the cost of retail vs. leased boxes, making it easier
to get retail devices to market by streamlining the testing and certification,
modifying the firewire interface on leased set-top boxes to permit home
networking and allowing cable operators to provide basic HD boxes with
integrated security functions.

The CableCARD was the FCC's hardware solution to try to
create a more robust retail market for digital set-top devices by separating
the surfing and security functions. Both the FCC and industry agree that robust
market has not materialized.

But in making those changes, the FCC conceded in a new order
Wednesday that it left some things unclear and other things out and that now
"modifications and clarifications are needed in order to fully and accurately
reflect our intent in adopting these rule changes."

The CableCARD order provided a waiver from the separation of
those security and surfing functions for low-cost, one-way boxes with limited
functionality. One of the limits was no DVR capability. In its corrections
Wednesday, the FCC said that it would allow those integrated boxes to have an
IP interface with which it could connect to a retail DVR, but "is not used to
access cable operator-provided on-demand or cable operator-provided digital video
recorder services."  

The FCC also says its order did not reference the most
recent or up-to-date testing procedures or standards, and so says what it meant
was ""the most up-to-date standards for unidirectional digital cable products
available, and to allow any qualified test facility to certify unidirectional
digital cable products."

It also clarified that it was only requiring MVPD's subject to its CableCARD rules to enable third-party devices to have access to switched-digital programming.

"We have concluded that the rule that we adopted could be
interpreted to extend to MVPDs that are not subject to our CableCARD rules and
navigation devices that do not rely on CableCARDs. This was not our intent,"
the FCC said. "Accordingly, we amend the rule to clarify that cable operators
that are subject to our CableCARD support rules are required to provide
CableCARD-reliant navigation devices with satisfactory access to switched
digital programming."

Apparently, the rules also could have been interpreted as
preventing cable operators from subsidizing any set-top box costs with service
fees. "Accordingly, we modify our rules to make it clear that our anti-subsidy
rule only applies in cases in which consumers use navigation devices that they
own to receive video services provided by their cable operator," the new order

The commission also took the opportunity to point out it had
also dropped a footnote, and to deny a petition from Public Knowledge, Free
Press and others to reconsider an earlier waiver allowing cable operators to
offer the limited-function integrated boxes. It pointed out that the CableCARD
order mooted that since it provided a blanket waiver for "one-way set-top boxes
without recording functionality."

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.