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NCTA Waves Goodbye to Set-Top Integration Ban

The FCC is still kicking the tires on proposals for a software-based successor, but its ban on integrated set-tops is due to expire Dec. 4 per a congressional mandate.

To mark that passing, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association took to the blogosphere to remind everyone of the sunset with a link to a blog back in July that explained that the sunset of the ban did not end cable's support for the CableCARD hardware solution that resulted from the integration ban, including in devices like TiVo and other retail devices.

The FCC back in 1998 mandated that cable operators use a separate piece of hardware—a CableCARD—to separate the surfing and security functions in set-tops as a way to promote a competitive retail market in the boxes. That mandate failed to achieve the goal and was sunset in the STELAR satellite compulsory license reauthorization bill that passed last year.

"The Integration Ban was an unnecessary technology mandate from the late 1990’s that cost billions of dollars with no real consumer benefit," NCTA blogged. "We’d like to take a moment to recognize how the repeal of this ban helps cable customers by lowering costs of equipment, saving energy, and clearing the way for better TV innovation."

But NCTA suggested that blowing taps for the cards in leased boxes did not mean cable ops would not continue to support them in retail boxes if that is what their subs want.

"If customers prefer to use third party devices that require CableCARDs (like some TiVos), then cable companies will continue to support them," NCTA said. "Because, in the end, we want customers to access their favorite content however they want.  And if that means supporting CableCARDs to decrypt video signals in retail devices, then that’s exactly what we’ll do. But forcing cable operators to use CableCARDs in leased devices benefited no one, least of all the consumers this rule arguably served."

Given the sunset, and again at the direction of STELAR, the FCC formed the Downloadable Security Technology Advisory Committee (DSTAC) to look at a software successor to the card that could spur a retail market in devices. The committee provided its recommendations in late August, but did not pick among them. The FCC is still considering how to proceed.

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.