Republicans want to stop CableCARD initiative

There’s a move among major Republicans in Congress to pressure the FCC to abandon ruling requiring cable operators to support card-based encryption technology.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the chairmen of the Senate and House commerce panels, and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), head of the House Energy and Commerce Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee, now back the cable industry’s desire to use downloadable security, the National Journal reported last week.

Under current rules, the FCC will prohibit the integration of encryption capabilities into cable set-top boxes after July 1, 2007. Cable companies would then lease removable CableCARDs containing security functions to consumers. Those cards could be inserted into compatible TV receivers, negating the need for a set-top box altogether, or into set-top boxes that could be purchased from retailers.

In a Nov. 27 letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, however, the three outgoing congressional chairmen asked the Republican-controlled commission to rescind the new requirements. They argued that the CableCARD technology would result in higher costs but not improved capabilities.

The Republican lawmakers agree with the cable industry, which wants to delay the CableCARD initiative until downloadable security is available. Such downloadable technology is preferable because it would allow set-top units to be continually updated.

The Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Project on Technology, Consumers Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press, Media Access Project, Public Knowledge and U.S. Public Interest Research Group all support CableCARD.

They told the FCC that the current rules would increase retail choice, lower prices and create “market-based” incentives for innovation. They said the cable industry was overstating the increased costs associated with the cards.