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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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  • by Token_Internet_Girl ( 1131287 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @07:59PM (#30359624)

    There you go, some good bait to get the /. crowd all riled up.

    That run-on sentence from her blog is a fresh fish in a pile of cats.

  • cablecard is dead (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lead Butthead ( 321013 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @08:07PM (#30359694) Journal

    In case nobody noticed, there hasn't been any new models cablecard enabled TV set since 2006. Cable companies has worked hard to make sure cablecard will never ever take off, and for the most part they appear to have succeeded. FCC investigation is about four years late.

  • Who cares? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted&slashdot,org> on Monday December 07, 2009 @08:14PM (#30359754)

    TV is dead anyway., bittorrent and companies with their own streaming sites (daily show, south park, etc) is all I need. I haven’t watched TV or touched a remote for at least five years. And I see more and better shows than before.

    If I want to pointlessly procrastinate, there’s always Slashdot with more stories than I can read in a day (including *all* comments. ;)

  • by Buelldozer ( 713671 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @08:29PM (#30359886)

    What the FCC is proposing is making the DCTV systems function like the ACTV system used to. You know, it's the reason why every new TV / VCR / ETC that came out had an analog cable box built right into it. I don't see why this ended when DCTV systems appeared on the scene. CableCards where a completely unnecessary and unneeded detour AWAY from the functionality and choice that the consumer previously had.

  • by Chyeld ( 713439 ) <> on Monday December 07, 2009 @08:31PM (#30359904)

    Odd isn't it. It isn't as if the cable companies chose the specs and design of the card themselves or anything (sarcasm alert, they did), how odd that supporting one would be such a PITA to them. Almost as if they were doing things half-assed just so they could say "We told you it wouldn't work and you need to use our locked down stuff instead."

  • by brxndxn ( 461473 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @08:45PM (#30360006)

    The future is:


    Voice, cable TV or the idea of 'channels', video, program guides, on-demand, the Internet.. It's all just data. The future is paying for one Internet connection.. and then paying for whatever services you want from whatever company. For example, one person might decide to have 7 cable channels they like from 7 different providers for nominal monthly fees, Internet access to accomodate, and a voip phone also.. all delivered (except for the actual Internet link) from various states or even other countries. Mr. African-American can actually watch African channels in America! Another customer might feel better having a 'package' deal where everything is delivered by one company (exactly how things are done now). Another customer might prefer Internet access from one company and a package of select channels from another company..

    So, imo, the easiest way to accomodate this is for 'cable' boxes to require Internet access. Hell.. with a decent Internet connection and a computer on every TV (getting less and less expensive or different in price than a cable box), I could just pay for cable channels I want if the damn media companies were willing to sell it directly to me.

    And, as technology progresses, the argument that it is 'innefficient' becomes more and more moot because the bandwidth required becomes more and more nominal in relation to availability.

    Of course, the entrenched entities such as Verizon and Comcast will fight against this.. because even in 'competition' they duopolistically screw the consumer.

  • Competition... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mi ( 197448 ) <> on Monday December 07, 2009 @08:50PM (#30360054) Homepage Journal

    That's what the government ought to be working on: ensure competition. Everything else is not only useless — for even the slowest-moving corporation will outrun and outsmart a government bureaucrat — but dangerous, because trying (and failing) to outsmart a corporation, the bureaucrats will trample over freedoms and liberties.

    The entire idea of giving entire regions over to one or two companies — in exchange for "stricter" regulation — was a disaster. It is as if somebody wanted Capitalism to fail, so they crippled it with government-assured mono- or, at best, duopoly. Why am I stuck choosing between Verizon and Comcast?

    That ought to be stopped. Allow anyone to run their cables to any home, if they want to. Then you can stop mandating this and that and let the competition sort it out. Which consumer would rather be calling FCC (Monday through Friday, 9-4 EDT) to complain and wait for the bureaucracy deal with company's skilled lawyers, instead of simply calling the competitor to switch?

    Of course, this would diminish the Government's power, so FCC will never voluntarily release this control and will keep finding reasons and examples of its own usefulness...

  • Re:Who cares? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gilbert644 ( 1515625 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @08:50PM (#30360056)
    You do realize that if everyone did what you do there would be no TV shows to pirate?
  • by supernova_hq ( 1014429 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @09:49PM (#30360492)
    Except they will never EVER entertain the idea of making 100% of the profit on the 3 channels you want when they can still make 10% of the profit on the 200 channels you need to buy through a 3rd party company in order to get those 3 channels.

    Ever notice how the channels you want are never in the same package? Yeah, that's not a coincidence!
  • Re:Who cares? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by spanky the monk ( 1499161 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @10:06PM (#30360634)
    No, he means TV is ACTUALLY dead. In 10 years time the internet will have killed it. How can this old broadcast medium compete with the vast, on demand and free (beer and freedom) network that is the internet. Lots of people are just hooking up large LCD screens to their home server full of torrented media. This is just the beginning. Studies have shown (citation needed) that young people are already watching less television than previous generations, reversing a long established trend to the contrary. Internet killed the Television star.
  • Clear the QAM!! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Randall311 ( 866824 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @10:18PM (#30360726) Homepage
    Clear QAM. If the cable companies designed and supported CableCARD properly like they should have in the first place, then they wouldn't be in this mess. Nobody wants STBs attached to every TV in their home, drawing more electricity and wasted energy, when their TVs already have perfectly capable digital tuners in them (and have for years). You see, back when TV was analog and TVs only went up to 13 channels were when STBs made perfect sense. They were delivering value by enabling so much more content to be accessed then you ever could without a box.

    New TVs from ~2001 up until 2006 all had support for CableCARD built in. It was the very thing to liberate us from the stupid (and unnecessary) STBs the cable companies would force you to rent. Yet the cable companies did everything they could to kill it, including charging more for the card then they do for the damn boxes. Eventually TV manufacturers realized that nobody was using the CableCARD slots so they abandoned it as an unnecessary cost.

    Fast forward to now and we have a myriad of download-able, streaming content to enjoy direct from the networks. The cable companies did this to themselves. More and more people are canceling their subscriptions as they realize the absurdity of it all. In order for cable to survive it will have to do the only thing they will never do. Clear their QAM. Provide a digital signal that is un-encrypted to the consumer. People will actually buy back in if this were to happen. They would be overjoyed that they would have the freedom to use MythTV, Windows Media Center, or whatever they wanted to as a DVR. Freedom of choice is the best way to get customer loyalty. Sadly, we all know that this will never happen, and we will continue to be forced into a model we do not want. The content delivery medium will continue to move from Cable to the Internet, until it is all over. Encryption and lock-down will be the death kneel to the cable industry. I suppose that the big Cable companies don't even care, since you're likely to still be paying them as your ISP.

    Maybe I'm in the minority, but I completely refuse to pay the cable company more money just so I can have a clunky box that they own taking up space in my living room. Fortunately I live close enough to the broadcast towers that I can get free OTA HD from all the major networks, and I'm happy with that. I'll never be happy with the cable companies until they provide unencrypted content to my home. Send us the signal that our built-in digital TV tuners can decode! To hell with all the encryption, DRM, and lockdown that the digital era has bestowed upon us. Lord how I do miss the good old days of analog sometimes.
  • Re:Competition... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GlassHeart ( 579618 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @10:18PM (#30360732) Journal

    Allow anyone to run their cables to any home, if they want to.

    No, this makes no sense at all. It's a waste of expensive cables and they may have to dig up roads unnecessarily. Instead, the monopoly that owns the cable should be divested of its content arm, so that anybody can send me their content through the cable to my house.

  • by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @10:25PM (#30360794)
    The TiVo + CableCARD solution (which I also use, through evil Time Warner Cable) is a good one, ...

    No, it isn't. I already own three ClearQAM PCI tuner cards and a clearQAM DVD/VCR recorder (and a ClearQAM USB tuner). Why should I have to buy someone else's DVR and rent a cable card just to do exactly what I was doing a month ago? I don't mean "pretty close to", I mean "exactly".

    If I'm going to rent more crap to do what I could do 30 days ago, why shouldn't I just bend over and rent Comcast's crap? At least then I get to listen to them lie to me about why it isn't working, instead of them pointing the finger at everyone else.

    Read the Cable Act of 1992 and see if section 17 doesn't ring a bell. All you people who benefited from being able to use your own VCRs to program what you wanted when you wanted need to start calling the FCC and demanding the same capability in the new digital age.

  • Re:Competition... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jvkjvk ( 102057 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @11:10PM (#30361104)

    The entire idea of giving entire regions over to one or two companies -- in exchange for "stricter" regulation -- was a disaster. It is as if somebody wanted Capitalism to fail, so they crippled it with government-assured mono- or, at best, duopoly. Why am I stuck choosing between Verizon and Comcast?


    It's quite funny to me how you answered the unspoken "who" in your second sentence with the question you pose in your third sentence, yet still don't seem to be able to connect the two occurrences, and that the answer to both is the same, and actually stated quite plainly by you, yourself.


  • by danwesnor ( 896499 ) on Monday December 07, 2009 @11:49PM (#30361398)

    The only way to get cable boxes into retail is to make them more attractive than the rental boxes from the cable cos. The only way to do that is to stop the cable cos from lying to customers and saying the boxes are required and that retail boxes (and Tivos) won't work on their systems. And the only way to do that is kill the atrocious profits the cable cos make from renting a $50 box for $10+ a month for years. And the only way to do that is stop the cables cos from providing boxes at all. And then the cable cos will just add the $10+ a month into their regular fees.

    Or, you can educate consumers, but that's harder than doing the above.

As of next Tuesday, C will be flushed in favor of COBOL. Please update your programs.