Replacing the CableCARD Regime

For about a year, and as directed by Congress, the FCC has been working on their (our) National Broadband Plan. With the goal of ensuring access while maximizing usage and potential. Whatever that may mean. But hopefully does not include Chatroulette. As you might imagine of a government report, the newly released National Broadband Plan covers a lot of territory. So instead of reading each of the 376 pages, take a look at DSLReports for some consumer-centric highlights. You might also want to hit Engadget for a few corporate responses. However, given our general focus here, I wanted to address the cable-co…

Section 4.13 discusses the current CableCARD landscape and associated challenges. Specifically, they address the SDV hurt fest, pricing obfuscation, “installation” hoop jumping, and CableCARD certification burden. And the FCC would like to see this all cleaned up by the fall. This year. It’s certainly a goal we can get behind. But, yeah, good luck with that.

Section 4.12 proposes more open access to a cable operator’s programming and services. In fact, they’re backing the “gateway” concept, suggested by TiVo and others in the CE space, opening the cable-co’s network to all manner of devices. Which certainly sounds more appealing than mandated cable-co UIs pushed down via tru2way (not long for this world?). Here’s what the FCC would like to see from a gateway device by 12/31/12:

  • Should use open, published standards for discovering, signaling, authenticating and communicating with retail devices.
  • Should allow retail devices to access all MVPD content and services to which a customer has subscribed and to display the content and services without restrictions or requirements on the device‚Äôs user interface or functions and without degradation in quality (e.g., due to transcoding).
  • Should not require restrictive licensing, disclosure or certification. Any criterion should apply equally to retail and operator-supplied devices. Any intellectual property should be available to all parties at a low cost and on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.
  • Should pass video content through to retail devices with existing copy protection flags from the MVPD.

Of course, THE cable industry doesn’t quite see eye to eye on all points. As they’ve got a business to protect. And seem to suggest that IPTV and satellite television services should be held to similar standards. (Agreed.) We can also thank the NCTA for the title of this post. As it’s a direct quote. I don’t have a problem specifically with CardCARD technology but, as implemented, this ineffective regime needs to be overthrown.

12 thoughts on “Replacing the CableCARD Regime”

  1. Pinch me I must be dreaming. Seriously it has been so long with this cluster I was starting to think the FCC would never wake up. Now lets see if they follow through.

  2. It’s a good start, but why do we need the copy flags? Already MSOs have shown that their willing to use it to restrict competition. Just look at the issues with the CCI byte as a prime example. Time Warner doesn’t offer multi-room DVRs or the ability to take your programming on the go, so instead of innovating and providing something that people have asked for, they’ve prevented competitors from doing the same. Also, I’m not sure that this addresses the incestuous relationship that is cablelabs. If the MSOs are allowed to regulate themselves on this, we can look forward to a whole new set of unreasonable requirements and restrictions for anyone who wants in.

  3. Davis, I agree with your general theme. But the specific issue you raise is more about how TiVo has implemented their multi-room viewing solution. Every other provider streams content, which appears to be acceptable. TiVo makes an actual duplicate/copy which is what’s often prohibited. And trust me, I feel your pain. MRV and TTG are totally dead to me beyond CBS, NBC, Fox, ABC, and PBS. (Cox Communications in NoVA. So if you live here and own or are considering TiVo, go with FiOS TV over Cox.) Whereas Moxi’s multi-room solution kinda kicks butt after being in the dark for 9 months.

  4. The problem with the copy flags is they pre-date current DRM technology. If Copy Once meant it was treated like a iTunes or Zune copy then we’d be set. I think being limited to playing the show on 5 computers and the connected devices is reasonable (and obviously Hollywood agrees or wouldn’t let Apple and Microsoft do it).

    What needs to happen is Hollywood needs to let content delivered via cable be treated like digital downloads, then we wouldn’t have these problems.

  5. It looked to me like the provision to have cable cards certify only on hardware implementation may drop the whole requirement to honor CCI flags. Would be nice if CE companies are given some leeway to scrap the honoring if the cable companies start misuisng the flag for their own purposes versus the purposes and intentions of the content owners.

    Streaming is the way to go for MRV within the house but TiVoToGo issues will not be solved by streaming.

  6. I can live without TiVoToGo. Content is everywhere these days and I don’t mind renting the occasional movie on my iPhone for the plane or streaming via Slingbox when I have WiFi or 3G. But MRV is a huge loss. Especially since whole-home DVR is the way forward. But I’ve said this so many times. And don’t you also have a Slingbox, Zeo?

  7. actually the Slingbox is my Brother-in-law’s. I host it on my old TiVo 20 with lifetime for him to watch while they live in Switzerland.

    I would still put shows on my smartphone though as it uses a lot less battery life then wifi or 3g streaming. Of course I read with interest your report on Netflix streaming to the win 7 mobile. :)

  8. Does this provision to be enacted by the fall

    Ensure equal access to linear channels for retail and operator-leased CableCARD devices in cable systems with SDV by allowing retail devices to receive and transmit out-of-band communications with the cable headend over IP.129

    mean that the tuning adapters will die by fall? (Provided Tivo/Moxi Supports this)

  9. Good first start, but c’mon, its the government. Cable co’s will stonewall and this won’t go anywhere for ages.

    Meanwhile, back in over-the-top land, things are moving quickly. I’m looking forward to my Boxee box when it ships, and my next laptop will hopefully have WiDi built in as well. So one way or another I’ll be able to watch Hulu on my HDTV whether Hulu wants me to or not. Ditto Comcast Xfinity. And Amazon VOD. And Netflix. And XBox 360 videos. And Apple TV shows. And HD shows on Youtube. And…

    Hey Dave, I *need* my TivoToGo. You obviously don’t spend enough time in hotel rooms with crappy channels and no DVR. Sure the Sling player on my iPhone works for some things, but the internet access speeds in these hotel rooms is so unpredictable having a few shows queued up on my iPhone is a requirement… Agree with you on the CCI byte thing though, this is really Tivo’s own fault for not supporting streaming. And if the bandwidth isn’t quite there, hey a little buffering never hurt anybody… as long as it vanishes immediately as soon as you start watching something else…

  10. Personally I think they should force the cable co’s to unbundle the cable cards from the STBs, instead of having them pre-paired. They should be required to show up with them unpaired at the customer site and go through the same process they do for cablecard TVs or Tivo’s to pair them with the STB. I think you’d find an automated method for configuring them would get deployed real quickly after that…

  11. Glenn, I’ve spent plenty of time in hotels with crappy programming. (The most was 2007, probably 100 nights or so.) And I got into DVR tech specifically so I could offload content during several years of subway commutes. But I’ve currently got enough other options that I can get by without TTG. And I usually bring my own broadband. If the hotel Internet isn’t great, the 3G card might be. Or vice versa. And I don’t mind buying content via iTunes or Amazon. Not to mention I’ve been known to travel with Netflix discs. Having said that, if TTG were much FASTER (and actually worked for me), I’d use it more.

  12. Dave, ditto. 3G card for when the internet isn’t working for whatever reason. Slingbox is probably the thing I watch most since it always works no matter what the bandwidth is. But Hulu etc are unreliable since they don’t let you buffer and the bandwidth can be too low. Used to be able to rip the streams, but with the conversion to new DRM schemes, that’s mostly not working anymore. So I’m often stuck with whatever I converted with TTG. I bought a new quad core CPU desktop to handle the TTG conversions a year or so ago, and it works tolerably on that machine, even on the HD conversions.

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