CableCARD: TiVo Fights The Good Fight

Dave Zatz —  March 31, 2014

TiVo visited with the FCC last week, lamenting the current state of CableCARD and Section 629. And, to reiterate their points, submitted the above letter. While we can’t speak to TiVo’s survey methodology, they report diminished CableCARD support with increased operator-implemented roadblocks – presumably intended to discourage third party set-top usage… such as TiVo and perhaps Samsung, should they stick with it. Some cited examples:

  • 36 percent of MSO agents surveyed in Dec. 2013 said that self-installation of CableCARDs was not allowed, up from 25 percent in Feb. 2013. (Note that self-installation of CableCARDs is required by 47 C.F.R. § 76.1205(b)(1).)
  • For those retail customers that self-install their CableCARDs, 24 percent would be charged a fee for self-installation, with fees increasing since EchoStar, including a fee as high as $39.95 imposed by two operators.
  • 36 percent of MSO agents surveyed in Dec. 2013 offer their own operator’s DVR on an unsolicited basis to customers requesting CableCARDs for retail devices,up from 26 percent in Feb. 2013

Beyond CableCARD, TiVo wants any successor “to assure the availability of bidirectional video signals to retail devices” put into play… before CableCARD is retired. And, what’s up with all these FCC waivers – why even bother enacting policies in place if anyone can be excused with a polite letter?

Of course, the cable industry most assuredly would present an alternate perspective. They’d probably argue that they do indeed successfully support CableCARD … as TiVo’s existing, tho small, retail customer base attests to. Further, they might suggest these policies were put in place during a very different era and the spirit of agnostic, retail cable content availability is being met via the likes iPad, Xbox, and Roku apps.

(Thanks Sam!)

18 responses to CableCARD: TiVo Fights The Good Fight

  1. Remember that time Comcast got the FCC off the cable industry’s back by agreeing to something with Boxee? Yeah, I’m still waiting for a spec that enables third parties to harness encrypted basic cable without leasing a box form the cable company.

    And I do suggest reading TiVo’s letter – it’s worth the few minutes.

  2. Michael Burstin March 31, 2014 at 8:44 am

    For as much as people love to complain about Comcast, I really can’t complain about their CableCard/Tivo support. While you do get some people on the phone who don’t know what they are talking about, I haven’t had too many problems.

    When I switched from a TivoHD to my new Roamio, all it took was 1 call to their CableCard support number to move the card. It took a few more calls when my mom did the same. First time was my fault, I hadn’t plugged something in prior to calling them, but then the operator took the cablecard off of the wrong Tivo and messed everything up. A 3rd call reconciled everything but everyone I spoke to was helpful and knowledgeable.

  3. Yeah, I wish I knew more about TIVo’s methodology and who causes them problems, how frequently, etc. As they’re frenemies with the cable industry, I doubt they’d do some sort of public report card as Netflix has calling out the good/bad. The last few times I swapped CableCARDs (twice) was in the fall, I did it all with a stellar FiOS support agent via Twitter DM. No muss, no fuss – very efficient. Wish all FiOS support interactions were that smooth.

  4. Would be great if there was an independent watchdog group that checked on compliance. I have read quite a few reports recently on TCF and DSLReports that are consistent with TiVo’s survey results. It will be interesting to see the first action from Wheeler’s FCC this year? that will probably set the tone on the future of retail access to MVPD sources.

    Its also worth noting that TiVo also published a detailed letter to the FCC in response to Buckeye’s integrated security waiver request. The 16 page Matt Zinn letter uses the strongest language I’ve seen to date to urge the Commission to “address its obligations under Section 629… on demonstrated fact rather than vague aspiration.”

  5. “Further, they might suggest these policies were put in place during a very different era and the spirit of agnostic, retail cable content availability is being met via the likes iPad, Xbox, and Roku apps.”

    Agnostic? Pretty much everything we’ve seen over the past couple of years, from Comcast’s blackballing of HBO Go on Roku, to the peering corruption, to the recent loss of even nominal net neutrality, to the aims of the MSO’s to force their own video rental operations shows that IP delivery is most certainly not agnostic.

    So, they are sure to suggest it. But, unlike with CableCARD, it just ain’t true.

  6. My TiVo not only requires a CableCard, but for the past year or so, Charter had to come out and hook up an extra box to my TiVo because some channels would not come in without it. I don’t get that. Shouldn’t I get all the channels with a CableCard that the Cable Box gets?

  7. That’s probably one reason why TiVo is lobbying for “bidirectional” support with whatever the successor is – the box you have handles “switched digital video” tuning and control. It’s a hack to overcome retail CableCARD limitations in SDV environments. Bidirectional could also come into play in regards to VOD.

  8. @Michael Burstin – Sorry, but surveys trump personal experience. The fact that you didn’t have trouble doesn’t prove anything. I have Comcast and I have had problems, but that doesn’t prove anything either. Perhaps the techs I dealt with were idiots and that’s not Comcast’s fault. But a large percentage of people reporting problems is interesting proof that the MSOs are intentionally making CableCARD difficult for people to deploy. Its certainly part of my calculus of whether to replace my Premiere with a Roamio or not. In my case I’m pretty sure it will cost me hours/days of lost productivity.

  9. @Michael Burstin – I did not have a great experience getting my Roamio up and running with Comcast. It took numerous phone calls. I did finally learn that I am better calling support during the day, than on nights and weekends. Apparently their A-Team works the day shift. I also reviewed my Comcast bill during this time. Last November they started charging me for a Comcast DVR rental even though I have owned Tivo boxes exclusively for the last decade. I don’t trust Comcast. If I had any alternative other than satellite, I would jump at it.

  10. When I had Comcast, they worked on multiple occasions to obfuscate and otherwise impair the process. They never outright blocked it, but often expressed ignorance or claimed that they didn’t THINK it was available. The Comcast website hid the information about cablecards, was intentional vague and almost self-contradictory. They did everything they could to make it difficult, right up to requiring a truck roll that required 4 hour windows and then send a guy without the correct cards and training.

    FIOS sent a guy who had previously worked for Comcast. They never gave me a hassle or even raised an eyebrow about my request for cards and worked with me when I moved and had to change accounts. Of course, they try at every turn to convince me to get the FIOS DVR boxes, but at least they don’t pretend I can’t use cablecards or that I need a truck roll to install one. (Especially when the truck roll consists of a guy walking in, plugging in the card and then CALLING SOMEONE ELSE TO ACTIVATE IT).

  11. What happened to the FCC’s mandate that the industry come up with an IP standard? I believe that Verizon was taking point on this and that it was delayed until 2014 at their request. All I can find is this filing from 2012, nothing since.


  12. @slowbiscuit,

    The latest extension from the FCC on the IP Output requirement has a deadline of June 2, 2014. NCTA and Verizon have argued in their comments to the FCC that the Commission need not take the step of extending the compliance date because Section 76.640 is no longer in effect following the D.C. Circuit’s decision in EchoStar Satellite LLC v. FCC. NCTA and Verizon argue that EchoStar vacated the requirement. TiVo disagrees with that interpretation. TiVo urges the Commission to act to reinstate the CableCARD technical standard until a successor solution is in place and urges the Commission to act expeditiously to clarify the continued applicability of Section 76.640(b)(4)(iii) and, as needed, grant an industry-wide waiver by extending the date for compliance with this requirement.

  13. I just went through a cablecard nightmare, and yes the carriers (comcast in this case) are just NOT incented or interested to make it any better. 6-8 hours on call with CableCard support, technical support, online chat, video support and ultimately a truck roll (paid by the carrier) and in the end, it was all of what I told them it was – codes needed to be removed and added back – boom, all functioning. 6-8 hours on the phone, five minutes onsite with a truck roll and it was working. Fail.

  14. OK Sam, so in essence this is Tivo’s response to the upcoming deadline asking the FCC to get off the schneid and do something after the court decision. This doesn’t look good.

  15. @slowbiscuit,

    Agreed. NCTA and the cable operators are lobbying extremely hard for the end of the integrated security ban. NCTA is arguing that there is no need for a nationwide single-standard for retail access to cable signals because of the innovation that is taking place by cable operators… this is all a charade, IMHO, and if they are successful we will be in a position, in the long term, that requires us to lease our cable operators equipment to receive video programming. This is the status quo in Europe and the rest of the world.

    The FCC has been silent since they issued the Charter waiver decision partly due to the fact that they have a new chairman. I expect we will see what direction Wheeler is heading pretty soon.

  16. “I expect we will see what direction Wheeler is heading pretty soon.”

    For all his faults, still:

    Bring Back Julius!

  17. $7 billion per year revenue from STB rentals over approx 50M cable subscribers (top 10 but hey wth) equals about $12/month average. Seems high actually. Course it could include other fees not called DVR rentals I suppose. Comcast charges $16/mo for a DVR in my area, don’t know if that includes the CableCARD fee or not for example. But I thought DVR penetration was still well under 50%…

  18. My biggest issue is with Time Warner Cable refusing to allow basic TiVo features to function because they abuse the CCI-Byte like no other cable company. Every non-local channel on the system carries the CCI Byte to eliminate multi-room viewing. So I can’t use the TiVo stream for any cable channel outside of my home. Time Warner also refuses to sign deals to allow things like Turner Classic Movies App to operate on the iPad. You need to connect it to your cable provider account and of course Time Warner Cable refuses to release its death grip.