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FCC to Turn Up Heat on CableCards

WASHINGTON: The FCC lifted six items out of the recently introduced National Broadband Plan for its April agenda, including what do to about those pesky CableCards.

The commission will issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking to change CableCard rules “to improve the operation of that framework pending the development of a successor framework.”

CableCards represent the FCC’s somewhat erstwhile effort to demonopolize the cable set-top box industry. As of 2008, two manufacturers owned 92 percent the cable set-top business. The commission in 2004 adopted a “plug-and-play” standard requiring cable operators to separate their access cryptology from the set-top and embed it in standalone cards--CableCards. The idea was for people to be able to buy their own set-tops that would work with any cable provider’s CableCard.

Cable operators balked at the added expense and the diminished control over subscribers. They collectively said, “but wait, we’re developing interactive, two-way TV.” The initiative was a dud, but the FCC doesn’t intend to leave it at that.

“On an expedited basis, the FCC should adopt rules for cable operators to fix certain CableCard issues while development of the gateway device functionality progresses,” the NBP states. “Adoption of these rules should be completed in the fall of 2010.”

The regular meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 21. The list of items on the agenda includes Universal Service Fund reform, mobile roaming, network gateways, network vulnerability, cyber-security and CableCards.