FCC: Whoops, CableCARD Was a Total Disaster

Illustration for article titled FCC: Whoops, CableCARD Was a Total Disaster

Yesterday the FCC admitted that CableCARD—a system originally designed to open up the market for video content—is a failure. Here's what they're doing to fix it.

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The regulator is seeking comments "on how to encourage innovation," which basically means how to move past the total failure of the CableCARD system and on to something that will democratize how and where you can access cable video streams. If you're never heard about the CableCARD system, it's effectively the only thing keeping you from using your Xbox 360 as a DVR. A potential change could
open up cable signals to all devices, including your TiVo and Xbox 360.

And until very recently, you couldn't even get your Windows PC to be a DVR unless you bought it OEM from HP or Dell or someone, where they would install the CableCARD for you at the time of purchase. Quite opposite from the way people pictured CableCARDs would work—and how it will work shortly.

Just how bad is it? Ars Technica points out that in the FCC report, a grand total of fourteen non-leased set top boxes were available in the US at retail in 2008. That means that nearly every set-top box in the US is leased by a cable company, allowing them virtually unlimited pricing control and no incentive to innovate. Compare that to the 879 devices for sale in the truly competitive mobile industry, and you can see just how throttled the market is by the cable industry.

There's no telling what exactly is going to happen here, but at the very least it's good to see the FCC continuing their push for openness and sanity. We've waited long enough for something that's really not too much to ask. [ars technica]

DISCUSSION

One other thing they could do to fix it is take away the power of Cable Labs to decide who can and can't have Cable Card devices and leave that up to the FCC. There's no shortage of bootleg HDTV shows making it onto torrent sites in spite of Cable Labs' draconian protections on Cable Card technology. If anything Cable Lab's death-grip on Cable Card technology has promoted piracy than done anything to prevent it. If I could have a Cable Card tuner for my PC right now I'd probably re-up my CATV subscription and not torrent any shows I watch on a regular basis.

Its either that or do to the Cable companies what they did to Ma Bell not too long ago. Remember the old acoustic coupler modems and fax machines of yore? That was because you couldn't connect anything but Bell's equipment to the telephone lines and you had to "rent" the phones from them. The Government put the kibosh on that, the same as they should with the cable companies.