TiVo Calls for Ban on Boxes With Theft Gear

TiVo Inc., maker of the commercial-zapping digital video recorder, is pressing the Federal Communications Commission to force cable operators to cease distribution of set-tops with integrated security and channel-selection functions.

TiVo is concerned that it won’t be able to market DVRs with channel-surfing capabilities if cable operators are allowed to lease boxes with signal-theft technology embedded in set-tops.

The company wants the FCC to enforce rules that would require cable to deploy new boxes that authorize signal reception through the use of an insertable card, once called a point-of-deployment (POD) module but now called a CableCard.

“Unless cable operators are required to use CableCards in their own products, there will never be any meaningful competition in the navigation-device market,” TiVo told the FCC in an Aug. 25 filing.

In response to Congress, the FCC crafted rules designed to inject competition in the set-top box market. The agency determined the best way to do so was to force cable to stop leasing integrated boxes, or set-tops that combine signal security and channel-selection function.

The FCC established Jan. 1, 2005, as the date when new cable boxes must include CableCards.

The mandate applied to hybrid analog/digital boxes, though not to analog-only set-tops.

The cable industry fought the rules, claiming they would raise set-top costs. It also argued the rules were unnecessary because of the cable industry’s plug-and-play agreement with DTV makers.

Under that agreement, consumers will be able to purchase DTV sets to view cable programming, including premium and HDTV services, without a set-top box but with a cable card.

Based on cable’s claims, the FCC last July moved the compliance date to July 2006.

Many cable operators want to deploy set-tops with DVR technology, cutting into TiVo’s market. TiVo told the FCC it can’t offer a similar product unless the set-top box market is made competitive by virtue of requiring cable operators to unbundle signal security.

TiVo urged the FCC to retain and enforce the July 2006 deadline.