Markey Pushes For All-Vid, CableCARD Fixes

The cable set-top box is not as "smart"
or available as it should be, says Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and the FCC needs
to rectify that, including by making MVPD's install video gateway devices in
all new homes and for all replacement installs as of the end of 2012.

That was Markey's message to FCC Chairman Julius
Genachowski in a letter Wednesday.

Markey, who pointed out he was the author of the
1996 Communications Act provision seeking to spur a retail market for set-top
video navigation devices, was preaching to the choir.

The FCC has teed up a vote at its Oct. 14 meeting on
proposed changes to the CableCARD rules
to make the devices more "consumer friendly" and better promote a
competitive marketplace.

Cable operators were required to implement a
hardware solution to separating the surfing and security functions in cable
digital set-tops. The FCC mandated the separation to goose a retail market in
set-tops, but has since conceded it did not work.

While the FCC's proposal is to replace the current
set-top regime with a universal device capable of integrating traditional and
online video, in the meantime it said it wanted to make some tweaks to the
CableCARD system to improve it.

Markey wrote that the failure of the CableCARD
regime to spur that marketplace was because it was unwieldy and not
competitively priced. Markey wants the FCC to ensure that CableCARDs can be
self-installed without the need for additional equipment.

Markey also wants the commission to launch a proceeding
"to make progress" toward a simple, inexpensive gateway device that
unites Internet and cable content. Again, he was essentially adding his imprimatur
to a process already underway. The FCC has launched an inquiry into that
all-video device, though it has not yet moved to a rulemaking.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake have
both indicated their support of uniting Web and traditional video content via a
gateway device as a way to promote broadband adoption (given that 99% of
households have a TV, compared to 75%-80% with computers.

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.