CableCARD Combat Continues

The cable industry is pulling out all the stops to avoid the integration ban--an 8-year-old law that directs cable companies to separate security functions from set-top boxes, so the devices can be sold by retailers. By July 1, 2007, cable set-tops have to be compatible with a "CableCARD," which does the security and
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The cable industry is pulling out all the stops to avoid the integration ban--an 8-year-old law that directs cable companies to separate security functions from set-top boxes, so the devices can be sold by retailers.

By July 1, 2007, cable set-tops have to be compatible with a "CableCARD," which does the security and descrambling functions now done in integrated boxes leased by cable companies. The industry has won several waivers on the integration ban, but recent efforts to extend it further have failed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the ban in August.

There are currently around 200,000 CableCards on the market. The cable lobby says the industry doesn't mind supporting CableCARD boxes, but it doesn't want to be forced to switch out all the integrated legacy boxes already in homes.

On Halloween, cable lobby chief Kyle McSlarrow appeared on Capitol Hill as the Voice of Doom, saying the integration ban could jeopardize the very digital TV transition. McSlarrow drew the peculiar parallel in a letter addressed to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information John Kneuer and the FCC.

"At a time when Congress and the administration have made the digital transition a national priority and when one government agency is preparing to subsidize 'over-the-air households' to the tune of $40 for each digital-to-analog converter, it is incomprehensible that another government agency should simultaneously force consumers to pay $2 to $3 per month per box more for leased set-top boxes that will help facilitate the digital transition for millions of viewers without any government subsidy," the letter said.

Several cable network heads weighed in as well, imploring FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to give the industry just a little more time.

"As programmers, we also have strong views about this rule because we believe its implementation will adversely affect our ability to provide new and innovative content and services to cable customers," wrote the chiefs of the Weather Channel, Showtime, Discovery, BET, ESPN, MTV, Turner, Oxygen, BET, A&E, TV One and the NBC cablers.

NCTA filed a request with the FCC in August for deferral of the integration ban until a new downloadable security technology is deployed by cable operators, or Dec. 31, 2009 if downloadable security is not deployed by then.

Consumer electronics makers and other potential competitors say enough already. TiVo has asked the FCC to "examine closely the CableCARD cost figures being cited by the cable industry, since the figures appear high and are not adequately explained in the record."