The NCTA’s FCC bid to kill CableCards

Mon, 12/07/2009 - 9:33am
Brian Santo

Ready for another punishing debate about CableCards? The new version of the FCC is, according to the NCTA.

The FCC has issued a public notice asking for comment about e-government, government broadband initiatives, the use of government assets and policies to support broadband deployment, and government programs and policies to support broadband adoption.

Though in the notice the Commission did explicitly ask about CableCards, or the section of the Communications Act of 1996 (Section 629) under which the FCC derived jurisdiction for imposing the CableCard approach, two ranking FCC members – Media Bureau Chief William Lake and senior advisor Carlos Kirjner – held a meeting with the NCTA, asking the NCTA for its “views on whether Section 629 of the Communications Act had fulfilled its goals and, if not, what we might recommend,” wrote Kyle McSlarrow, in his official letter responding to the FCC.

“We agree that a fully competitive retail navigation device market has not yet developed,” McSlarrow wrote.

It doesn’t make sense for one to exist. There are some circumstances under which a cable customer can purchase a set-top, move to another location, and be able to sign up with another cable company and use the same box.

But that’s not a market, that’s a contingency plan. A market is when a customer can buy a box, subscribe to any service provider, and cancel and sign up with another – without moving.

McSlarrow points out in his letter that since the DBS companies and AT&T – three of the 10 biggest pay-TV providers in the country – aren’t covered by the CableCard agreement, the CableCard approach doesn’t work for consumers.

Furthermore, the approach those competitors use instead is based on digital rights management (DRM) technology, and he hints that’s the way cable might want to go. “It may be that the CableCard, while well supported, is becoming outdated: AT&T’s U-verse and other IPTV services use DRM-based security methods.”

He recommends a regulatory framework that encourages devices that are “platform-agnostic.”

Uh-huh. And I would like a pony for Christmas.

But perhaps McSlarrow is playing a different game. He slips in a note that the lack of a vital retail market for CPE “has not inhibited the growth of competition in the video marketplace or the resulting consumer benefits.”

Hey, what do we think about tossing those regulations entirely?


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