FCC Tweaks CableCard Rules

Washington — If at first you don’t quite
succeed …

The Federal Communications Commission
last week issued a boatload of corrections
and clarifications to its CableCard order from
last October, including allowing operatorsupplied,
low-cost, one-way set-top boxes to
have an Internet-protocol interface, but only
as long as the IP connection isn’t used to
access a cable operator’s video-on-demand
or digital video recorder services.

The FCC adopted the rules to improve its
CableCard regime —
cable operators argue it
isn’t really worth saving
— while it contemplates
mandating a new, universal
set-top that would
wed online and traditional
video. Cable operators
have said that move
would also be a mistake.

Those “fixes” to the
CableCard module included
ensuring access to switched-digital
video by retail devices; prohibiting box-price
discrimination; requiring that consumers
have the option of self-installing CableCards;
providing subscribers with information on
the cost of retail set-tops vs. leased boxes;
making it easier to get retail devices to market
by streamlining testing and certification;
modifying the Firewire interface on leased
set-tops to permit home networking; and allowing
cable operators to provide basic HD
boxes with integrated security functions.


The CableCard was the FCC’s attempt to
create a more robust retail market for digital
set-top devices by separating the settop’s
channel-surfing and security functions
into a removable card. Both the FCC
and industry agree that a robust market
has not materialized.

In making its changes, the FCC conceded
in a new order last week that it left some
things unclear and had omitted other things
and that “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 those limits was
that such boxes would lack DVR capability.


In its corrections Wednesday, the FCC said
it would allow those integrated boxes to
have an IP interface with which they could
connect to retail DVRs, as long as the interface
was “not used to access cable operatorprovided
on-demand or cable operatorprovided
digital video recorder services.”

The FCC also said its order did not reference
the most recent or up-to-date testing procedures
or standards. It said
its intent was to provide
“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 multichannel-
video distributors
subject to its CableCard rules to make
switched digital video programming accessible
to third-party devices.

“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 switcheddigital

Apparently, the rules also could have been
interpreted as preventing MSOs 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 said.

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.