TiVo to Congress: Leave Integrated Set-Top Ban Alone

Saying the National Cable & Telecommunications Association is trying to "freeze out" retail competition, TiVo senior VP and general counsel Matthew Zinn plans to tell Congress that it should not allow a provision in the STELA bill that would "undermine the retail market for set-top boxes and deprive consumers of choice."

He says the provision has no place in the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act.

That is according to Zinn's written testimony for a March 12 hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee on a draft of the bill that includes eliminating the FCC ban on integrated set-top boxes (Cable ops would no longer have to use CableCARD security add-ons).

Zinn said that while he would ordinarily not be opining on a satellite bill, he was weighing in because of a "completely unrelated provision that was slipped in to the STELA reauthorization legislation pushed by a cable lobbying group to eliminate choice in how consumers watch cable programming."

Cable ops have been pushing the FCC to drop the CableCARD mandate, while TiVo has been pushing just as hard to preserve it.

TiVo is concerned that removing the CableCARD mandate would disadvantage TiVo's Roamio retail set-top. "The provision inserted into STELA would repeal the requirement that cable operators use the same security standard in their boxes as they make available for retail boxes and allow operators to lock out competitive devices, by—as they did before the 'integration ban' became effective—offering superior access to programming and functions to their own devices, and inferior and faulty access to competitive devices."

Although cable operators have said they would still support third-party boxes, Zinn says that is no guarantee.

"The NCTA and some of its members are simultaneously taking the position at the FCC that there are no rules requiring them to provide or support CableCARDs to retail devices," says Zinn.

If the FCC accepts that argument, and Congress deep-sixes the ban, there will be "no requirement for cable operators use CableCARDs themselves and no requirement to supply CableCARDs to new retail devices," or to support them in old devices, says Zinn.

Likening it to the Carterfone decision 45 years ago that required retail phones work on wired nets, and to wireless handset interoperability being pushed today, Zinn said consumers should be able to purchase the navigation device of their choice to access programming "just like they can use whatever computer, telephone or cell phone they want to utilize the Internet or wireless networks."

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.