FCC Has To Correct CableCard Order

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The FCC has issued a bunch of corrections/clarifications to its CableCard order, including allowing operator-supplied low-cost, one-way set-top boxes to have an IP interface but only so long as the IP connection isn't used to access a cable operator's VOD and DVR services.

The commission adopted rules last October to improve its CableCard regime while it contemplates mandating a new, universal set-top that would wed online and traditional video.

Those included ensuring that operators support accessing switched digital video by retail devices, prohibiting box price discrimination, requiring the option of consumer self-installation of the cards, giving consumers information on the cost of retail vs. leased boxes, making it easier to get retail devices to market by streamlining the testing and certification, modifying the FireWire interface on leased set-top boxes to permit home networking and allowing cable operators to provide basic HD boxes with integrated security functions.

The CableCard was the FCC's hardware solution to try to create a more robust retail market for digital set-top devices by separating the surfing and security functions. Both the FCC and industry agree that robust market has not materialized.

But in making those changes, the FCC conceded in a new order Wednesday that it left some things unclear and other things out and that now "modifications and clarifications are needed in order to fully and accurately reflect our intent in adopting these rule changes."

The CableCard order provided a waiver from the separation of those security and surfing functions for low-cost, one-way boxes with limited functionality. One of the limits was no DVR capability. In its corrections Wednesday, the FCC said that it would allow those integrated boxes to have an IP interface with which it could connect to a retail DVR, but "is not used to access cable operator-provided on-demand or cable operator-provided digital video recorder services."

The FCC also says its order did not reference the most recent or up-to-date testing procedures or standards, and so says what it meant was ""the most up-to-date standards for unidirectional digital cable products available, and to allow any qualified test facility to certify unidirectional digital cable products."

It also clarified that it was only requiring MVPDs subject to its CableCard rules to enable third-party devices to have access to switched-digital programming.

"We have concluded that the rule that we adopted could be interpreted to extend to MVPDs that are not subject to our CableCard rules and navigation devices that do not rely on CableCards. This was not our intent," the FCC said. "Accordingly, we amend the rule to clarify that cable operators that are subject to our CableCard support rules are required to provide CableCard-reliant navigation devices with satisfactory access to switched digital programming."

Apparently, the rules also could have been interpreted as preventing cable operators from subsidizing any set-top box costs with service fees. "Accordingly, we modify our rules to make it clear that our anti-subsidy rule only applies in cases in which consumers use navigation devices that they own to receive video services provided by their cable operator," the new order says.

The commission also took the opportunity to point out it had also dropped a footnote, and to deny a petition from Public Knowledge, Free Press and others to reconsider an earlier waiver allowing cable operators to offer the limited-function integrated boxes. It pointed out that the CableCard order mooted that since it provided a blanket waiver for "one-way set-top boxes without recording functionality."

The FCC's amended order on CableCards is available here: http://www.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2011/db0126/FCC-11-7A1.pdf

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