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FCC May Pry Open the Cable Set-Top Box 222

awyeah writes "The NY Times reports that the FCC is finally looking into the practice of cable companies requiring use of their set-top boxes to access their digital cable and video on-demand services. The inquiry (PDF) states: 'Consumers can access the Internet using a variety of delivery methods (e.g., wireless, DSL, fiber optics, broadband over powerlines, satellite, and cable) on myriad devices made by hundreds of manufacturers; yet we know of no device available at retail that can access all of an MVPD's services across that MVPD's entire footprint.' Yes, there are a few devices out there — for example CableCARD-enabled TVs, and CableCARD/Tuning Adapter-enabled TiVos and Windows Media Center PCs, but only the cable companies' set-tops can access services other than broadcast TV, such as video-on-demand and pay-per-view. Is it finally time to open these devices and embrace actual standards and competition?" Lauren Weinstein has a cautionary blog post about the world we may be entering if this FCC initiative comes to fruition, which concludes: "I have difficulty seeing how this universe can be made to function effectively in the absence of some sort of regulatory regime to ensure transparency and fairness in situations where the Internet access providers themselves are providing their own content that directly competes with content from the external Internet."
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FCC May Pry Open the Cable Set-Top Box

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  • Re:cablecard is dead (Score:2, Informative)

    by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @08:11PM (#30359720)

    I worked call center at Comcast and during training the support supervisor told us how much of a PITA it was to support CableCard boxes and how kludgy they were. I think 2.5% of the cable boxes in our support area were CableCard. I got to trouble shoot a few calls, and yea, they required alot more work to troubleshoot and enable for an account.

  • by HTH NE1 ( 675604 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @08:18PM (#30359798)

    When I got my first CableCARD-enabled TiVo, I was overjoyed to finally be rid of Time Warner Cable's Scientific Atlanta cable box with its mystro software designed to penalize you if you use an external device to control it to change channels precisely on time. If you started changing channels before the guide data updates for the timeslot but don't finish until after it does, you find it throwing out the initial or all the digits and either changing to the wrong channel or not changing channels at all. Though that cable box was still useful as a conduit over Firewire for recording to my desktop computer.

    OK, so maybe there were a few problems now and then, but the CableCARD experience had settled down... until TWC decided to use Switched Digital Video and required TiVo users to use their Tuning Adapters to watch certain channels. Not IR controlled though. These use USB, so at least they could handshake to ensure that the device switched properly, yes?

    No, of course not. For many of my HD channels I now have to have a second unit also recording the non-HD version of the same program in order to be sure I at least get to see the shows I want.

    Meanwhile broadcasters like Fox (KPTM 42) are setting broadcast flags on their prime-time shows, preventing me from playing back my recordings made through the cable box on my computer, their being flagged "Copy Once" instead of "Copy Freely". And this after last season doing something else that made their video non-standard so I could only access the audio stream with the computer. At least the TiVo not only still records and plays back those shows, it also still lets me transfer them to the computer for burning to DVD.

  • Re:cablecard is dead (Score:5, Informative)

    by HTH NE1 ( 675604 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @08:26PM (#30359858)

    They require a visit because they have to check to make sure they're installed only in authorized secure devices. If they let it into just one unsecured device, all their digital encrypted programming will be available for copying.

    Though when I got my second TiVo HD, I called up and the person on the phone told me I could pick them up and install them myself and save myself the roll-out cost. Turns out the people who handle the local number are not local. They handle the national call center, they don't know local policy, and just didn't want to have to do anything at the end of that day. They were even wrong about the local branch's hours.

    Also they don't have any clue about cable boxes with IEEE 1394/Firewire ports and disavow their existence.

  • Re:cablecard is dead (Score:4, Informative)

    by Nethemas the Great ( 909900 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @08:38PM (#30359950)
    That's kind of funny since the last two Crapcast boxes I've had have what appears (through the vent holes) to be a CableCard stashed inside...
  • Re:Who cares? (Score:0, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 07, 2009 @08:50PM (#30360062)

    Clearly you don't watch any live sporting events.

  • Re:cablecard is dead (Score:4, Informative)

    by HTH NE1 ( 675604 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @09:12PM (#30360184)

    The card must be paired with the Host ID of the slot in which it is inserted by the head office, requiring a phone call. Once paired with a slot, it can't be used with any other slot in any other device.

    Also there's a quality problem with the cards, causing many not to pair properly to the device, and it can still take over an hour for the device pairing authorization to go out over the network.

  • by awyeah ( 70462 ) * on Monday December 07, 2009 @11:04PM (#30361068)

    What you're experiencing is called Switched Digital Video []. It's not really a scam. It's a way to save bandwidth.

    The part that sucks for you, as an owner of a CableCARD-enabled TV, is that CableCARD-enabled devices are generally one-way. The set-top boxes have two-way communications. Basically, on an SDV set-top box, when you change channels, the box asks the headend "I want channel XYZ, what's the frequency?" - and then the headend responds. But your TV doesn't have that capability, so you just have to locate the frequencies on your own.

    The best part is - if nobody is watching a particular channel in your area - it may not be available to you at all because the headend stops transmitting channels that nobody's watching.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.