FCC Tees Up CableCard Fixes


The Federal Communications Commission has tentatively slated changes to the CableCard regime for its Oct. 14 meeting.

As part of its push for a universal gateway device to unite online and traditional video, the FCC also proposed various changes to the CableCard regime, under which cable operators were required to implement a hardware solution to separating the surfing and security functions in digital set-tops.

The FCC mandated the separation to goose a retail market in set-tops, but has since conceded it did not work.

While the FCC's proposal is to replace the current set-top regime with a universal device capable of integrating traditional and online video, in the meantime it said it wanted to make some tweaks to the CableCard system to improve it.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has argued that those short-term fixes should include ending the ban on integrated set-tops altogether and stop requiring any more cards to be deployed.

"[T]the integration ban has imposed more than a billion dollars in costs on cable operators and consumers, yet there is no compelling evidence of any correlation between CableCard use in leased devices and the adoption of retail CableCard devices or other consumer benefits," NCTA said in comments to the FCC back in June.

"But even if there were such evidence, there is certainly no evidence that consumers would receive a commensurate incremental benefit from continued imposition of the integration ban on devices over and above the 20 million CableCard devices cable operators have already deployed."

NCTA said it was not suggesting "abandoning" support for those existing 20 million boxes. It argued that since the FCC has never said it was necessary for all leased devices to include the cards, and the 10 largest operators have deployed those 20 million, it is better to stop now "rather than unnecessarily forcing consumers to bear millions more in costs in the name of supporting a regime that in any event the Commission wants to replace."

Also on the agenda, released Thursday, is seeking comment on a proposal to require mobile carrier to supply usage alerts to customers to avoid "bill shock," and whether or not to set aside funds in the Universal Service Fund to support private investment in 3G wireless mobile services where it is currently not available.

The mobility fund is part of the overall Universal Service Fund reform the FCC outlined as part of the National Broadband Plan. The FCC adopted Universal Service Reform, changes to the fund supporting schools and libraries, at its meeting Thursday Sept. 23, and FCC chairman Julius Genachowksi suggested it would me moving as expeditiously as possible on more USF reform.