Cable Asks for Another Card Delay

The cable lobby is seeking yet another delay on the ban designed to put set-top boxes on retail shelves. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has asked the FCC to push the ban deadline from July 1, 2007, to the end of 2009.

The "integration ban," as its known, requires cable operators to separate encryption functions from basic decoding capabilities of their set-top boxes. That way, people could theoretically walk into a Radio Shack and buy their own cable set-top box, take it anywhere in the country and use it for cable TV.

The ban was initiated by the 1996 Telecom Act and hammered out by the FCC, which established a July 2000 deadline for the cable industry to provide encryption in a "point of deployment" module. The result was SD-like CableCARDs, which could be mailed to subscribers, stuck into the set-top or compatible TV set, and viola! Cable TV.

The first integration ban deadline was set for January 2005, bumped first to July 1, 2006 and then later to the 2007 date. Now, the cable lobby wants to blow off cards and move straight into software encryption.

"NCTA requested the waiver until the time when cable operators deploy the less expensive, more efficient downloadable security solution which can work in both cable set-top boxes and 'cable-ready' devices sold at retail, or until the end of 2009, whichever is earlier," wrote NCTA chief Kyle McSlarrow in a note to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

Oh, that figures, responded Consumer Electronics Association chief Gary Shapiro, whose members are stuck with gobs of CableCARD-compliant gizmos.

"While we are not surprised to see this request from NCTA, we are still deeply troubled," Shapiro responded. "This request is in line with previous actions of the cable industry including a lawsuit challenging the FCC's authority, multiple waiver requests and misrepresentation to consumers of CableCARD availability.

"While NCTA claims this delay would benefit consumers, we believe this action is anti-competitive, anti-consumer and may stifle the success of the transition to digital television. NCTA is proving once again that the cable industry is not committed to competition."

According to estimates from Kagan Research, the cable industry makes in the neighborhood of $2.5 billion from leasing set-top boxes, while mass deployment of CableCARDS could cost as much as $470 million.