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FCC Approves Changes To Cable Box Rules 439

Posted by timothy
from the crack-in-the-castle-wall dept.
GovTechGuy writes "The FCC issued an order Thursday that should make it much easier and cheaper for consumers to purchase and install third-party cable boxes made by manufacturers such as TiVo. The rules are aimed at spurring competition in the cable box market; currently consumers overwhelmingly choose to rent a box from their cable provider rather than buy their own. Lawmakers have complained the current cable box technology is outdated and doesn't allow consumers to leverage new sources of video content such as the Web or streaming services from providers such as Netflix. The new rules should result in a smarter, more advanced cable box in the near future."
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FCC Approves Changes To Cable Box Rules

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  • Cool (Score:2, Insightful)

    Where do I sign up?

    • Pick up a phone? (Score:3, Informative)

      by dreamchaser (49529)

      I had a cablecard installed in my Tivo Premiere within days of calling Verizon with no hassle at all.

      • by Macrat (638047)

        I had a cablecard installed in my Tivo Premiere within days of calling Verizon with no hassle at all.

        You are very lucky. Many people have nothing but headaches trying to get cablecard to work.

      • Re:Pick up a phone? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Punchinello (303093) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @09:40PM (#33903612)

        I had a cablecard installed in my Tivo Premiere within days of calling Verizon with no hassle at all.

        I have the same setup as you and can tell you there is a hassle. The cablecard Verizon Fios installed on my Tivo Premiere has one way communication. That means if I want any of the On Demand services I have to also keep my regular Verizon cable box (and pay the monthly rental fee). On Demand is an important part of the service as there are a ton of free movies and free replays of network and cable TV shows. Not all of this content is matched by the services on the Tivo alone.

        Take for example one of the premium channels (HBO). With the Verizon cable box I can watch any of the HBO movies or series on demand. I cannot do this with the Tivo. I would have to plan ahead and record everything my wife might want to watch. And I am no mind reader.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by herbman (857)

          I have the same setup as you and can tell you there is a hassle. The cablecard Verizon Fios installed on my Tivo Premiere has one way communication. That means if I want any of the On Demand services I have to also keep my regular Verizon cable box (and pay the monthly rental fee). On Demand is an important part of the service as there are a ton of free movies and free replays of network and cable TV shows. Not all of this content is matched by the services on the Tivo alone.

          This has nothing to do with the cablecard. Cablecards are decryption devices, period. All current host devices are one-way communications devices. There have been a few stabs at changing that but so far nothing has clicked and there isn't a standard communications mechanism for doing so. The closest anyone got was Tru2way [wikipedia.org] but that didn't really pan out. Point being, the card is not the reason for this situation.

  • cable companies will fight tooth and nail against it, again.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by badboy_tw2002 (524611)

      From the article:

      "A trade group representing the cable industry also praised the FCC's action and pledged to work with TiVo and other retail cable box providers to create a new video device capable of seamlessly integrating content from multiple sources.

      “We commend the Commission for its constructive approach in adopting sensible, targeted fixes to the current CableCARD rules that provide cable operators the necessary flexibility to continue improving the CableCARD experience for all of our customers,

      • by saider (177166)

        Right now, things are up in the air for them. They are scared that people are going to cancel cable and just go with downloaded content (Netflix, AppleTV, etc). They will probably open things up and let some other company develop the Set Top Box. Then when the feature set and business model stabilizes they will assert their monopolies and squeeze those companies out with their shoddy clones.

        • Re:rest assured (Score:4, Insightful)

          by plover (150551) * on Thursday October 14, 2010 @09:48PM (#33903664) Homepage Journal

          Well, they should be scared that people are going to abandon their lucrative set-top box rental scam. I'm shelling out a lot of money per month just to have HD DVRs from Comcast. These are buggy, buggy pieces of Motorola crap that I just can't wait to get rid of.

          The worst part is the abuse of their monopoly position. With 1080 lines of resolution at their disposal, they manage to squeeze five (5!) whole channel listings at a time onto the program guide screen. They reserve the bottom 20% of the guide for inane advertisements. They refuse to allow me to remove the shitty channels I will never watch from the lineup. They do not let me reorder the channels in a fashion that makes logical sense to me. There's a whole pile of annoyances that grate every time I touch the remote. We even have a list of activities we don't dare do, lest we send the cable box into some kind of tailspin while it's recording. And for this crap software, I pay them continually.

          I always liked my ReplayTVs much better than any Tivo I ever used, but anything else has got to be a damn site better than these awful things.

          • Amen, brother!

            Way back when, I used to have a Scientific Atlanta box that would show me a 12 channel by 2 hour grid. When they forced me onto a Motorola box, I got a seven channel by 30 minute grid, plus shitty advertisements plastered over around 1/3 of the screen real estate. NOT cool.

            Personally, I think that if a cable company is going to force ads upon you with their program guide, they should deduct a bit off your bill, since it's being subsidized. Or better yet, just don't show me damn ads on my pr

  • and... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    And Cable providers sue in 3...2...1

    Cable and Internet providers have been ridiculously successful against the FCC for the past 15 years. It's like literally everything the FCC has tried to do has been shut down by the courts.

  • by javelinco (652113) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @07:57PM (#33902630) Journal

    At Thursday's open meeting, the FCC issued an order that would promote competition in the marketplace for set-top boxes by ensuring retail devices such as TiVo have the same access to prescheduled programming as cable providers. The order would also make CableCARD pricing and billing more transparent, streamline the installation process, and ease requirements on manufacturers and operators upgrading their equipment.

    None of these address the "value add" (sorry, kinda puked in my mouth a little bit getting that out) that sells the consumer that they MUST GET CABLE BOX FROM CABLE COMPANY. First of all, consumers don't know they have a choice of getting a cable card, and how to get a device that supports one, and get one installed if they find the device. Secondly, consumers are told they can't get on-demand content if they don't use the cable company's device.

    That's it guys. Prescheduled programming? Nobody runs into problems with this. Pricing/Billing transparency? No - this would be a problem if most consumers knew the option existed. Streamlined installation? See pricing/billing transparency. Ease requirements? No - just need to HAVE requirements.

    • None of these address the "value add" (sorry, kinda puked in my mouth a little bit getting that out) that sells the consumer that they MUST GET CABLE BOX FROM CABLE COMPANY.

      So true, and it also doesn't address the yokels at the local office or the incompetent third party installers, all of whom insist that the cable company's rental box is absolutely required. Consumers are so uninformed in this area that I think the companies should be obliged to inform them of their rights, so that optional costs and c
      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        You know, this is the ONE case where I can actually be happy my cableco is shitty. Thanks shitty cableco! My local cableco runs all the basic channels still in analog, which means my USB TV tuner plugged into Windows 7 Media Center makes a hell of a DVR. Of course to find that out I had to deal with 10 minutes of "You don't OWN a TV? Really?" after which they finally gave me one of the bubbas that actually knows what is going on who told me they just broadcast all the basic channels in the clear, and if the

    • Secondly, consumers are told they can't get on-demand content if they don't use the cable company's device.

      That's easy enough to fix. All it takes is a prosecution for false advertising and Bjorn Stronginthearm's your uncle.

      • "That was a misinformed representative. He has been replaced. We are sorry for the misunderstanding. It's all quite clearly laid out in our training manuals."
    • consumers are told they can't get on-demand content if they don't use the cable company's device.

      The problem is that to receive the cable company's VOD you do need their cable box. Cable cards at the present are not built to do this. The reason being that a cable box is a two way device whereas cable cards are implemented as one way devices at least with Tivo boxes.

    • You still have to rent a CableCard. My guess is they aren't cheap.

    • We were told we can't get HD channels without the cable box. They're all digital. So even though I can pick up local channels in HD without cable, I can't get them with basic cable. I have to pay extra for a box and the "digital package".
  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @08:04PM (#33902714)

    TFA states a lot of PR from the FCC, the TiVo, and the cable industry on the effects the new rule will have on consumers, but nowhere describes what about the CableCARD rules is actually being changed, and doesn't cite the order to enable people to check for themselves. So I checked the FCC website, the order is here [fcc.gov].

    Haven't had time to read it myself yet, but hopefully having it will enable people to read it and make comments on the actual content, rather than the fluff in TFA.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by uvajed_ekil (914487)
      TFA states a lot of PR from the FCC, the TiVo, and the cable industry on the effects the new rule will have on consumers, but nowhere describes what about the CableCARD rules is actually being changed, and doesn't cite the order to enable people to check for themselves. So I checked the FCC website, the order is here.

      Thanks, I downloaded it. Unfortunately, the document is 59 pages of legalese. If most of us don't even RTFA most of the time, we sure as heck aren't going to try to make sense this FCC or
    • 26. We conclude that the best means of assuring the development of a retail market for navigation devices is to require cable operators to allow subscribers to self-install CableCARDs. We believe cable operators should have time to train staff and develop more robust customer support infrastructures and procedures, and provide nine months to comply for any operators that allow subscribers on any of their systems to self-install any cable modems89 or leased set-top boxes.90 We are not persuaded
    • by jonwil (467024) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @10:04PM (#33903778)

      Reading the PDF, the new rules seem to be:
      1.Cable operators need to provide better access to switched digital video services (via improved tuning adapters, via an IP backchannel or via some other option)
      2.They must provide greater information to consumers about the cost of a cable card. They must also offer consumers who dont lease a set top box a lower price than those who do lease a set top box. And there is something in there about making any set top box they lease also available for sale.
      3.They must improve cable card installation including allowing self-install for any device where the manufacturer has provided installation instructions (i.e. anything where the cable company wont have to provide self-install technical support)
      4.They must provide multi-stream cable cards by default unless a consumer specifically asks for a single stream card
      5.There are changes to cable card certification designed to ensure cable card certification bodies cant hold up cable card equipment for anything other than valid technical reasons
      6.There are some changes in the interface between set top boxes and other devices. The current requirement to provide a firewire port will go away and be replaced with a requirement that is physical-interface-neutral. It will also be expanded to require 2-way communication (such as being able to send the cable box remote control signals)
      7.There is something there that says recievers will not be reqired to implement features designed to lock certain outputs on playback of certain content (something the MPAA was asking for to close the "analog hole" and prevent direct copying of certain kinds of PPV movie content)
      There are also some other things that I dont understand.

      The thing I want to see from the FCC is the elimination of any rules regarding analog cable programming and a new rule pushing cable companies to completly end analog cable programming (which frees up spectrum/bandwidth for more TV channels or higher broadband speeds)
      Something regarding over-the-air channels that says cable companies can carry over-the-air channels (including ant digital channels, high-definition or otherwise) and that the over-the-air channel providers like ABC can not prevent the cable companies from carrying their content or charge "unreasonable" fees for doing so would be nice.

    • #1 tuning adapters take care of SDV however, the FCC is taking Tivo's idea into consideration regarding an alternative system that does away with tuning adapters (cisco adapters in particular have been a problem)
      #2 being as cable providers are charging people ~ 40$ to pop a card in a slot and make a 5 minute call to pair/activate the card this is a good excuse for the FCC to headshot the cable providers.
      #3 virtually all of the cable providers prohibit the installation of a new cable card except by the provi

    • Thanks for the link. As a Linux/MythTV user, my biggest concern has always been that CableCard is an absolutely useless spec to me since they refuse to certify any devices the aren't completely locked down. Even the behemoth Microsoft has had a hell of a time getting them to open up and allow more CableCard devices for Windows. Linux is completely out of the question.

      So I'm most interested in how (or even if) they changed any of the certification requirements in a way that would affect Linux users. The sect

  • by mattack2 (1165421) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @08:06PM (#33902756)

    The waiver for the satellite companies should be removed, so that you can buy third party DirecTV and DISH boxes too. (There could be third party DISH boxes, and would presumably have been new DirecTivos all along, without the waivers.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by blair1q (305137)

      But TiVo doesn't want that.

      They're just about to release a new DirecTivo and have cowed DISH in court. TiVo doesn't want third-party competition in satellite. But because the cable companies were doing non-infringing competitive DVR boxes, TiVo was the third-party, so it wanted this access.

      A business just isn't a real business until you can see the hypocrisy crusting around its mouth.

      • by mattack2 (1165421)

        Proof that "Tivo doesn't want that"?

        Tivo(*) could have had a DirecTivo *ALL ALONG* if it could make boxes on its own. Tivo(*) could have had their own box that worked with DISH. Heck, Tivo(*) could have had one box to rule them all, one box that was transferrable between satellite, cable, and OTA, and worked with all of them. (Yes, it might not be cost effective, but maybe it would be. There was the DirecTivo that did OTA HD but regular DirecTV..)

        (*) or any third party box/device maker, for their own de

  • Cable boxes aren't just behind, their development (at whatever pace) is lopsided. My cable box from Verizon Fios:

    -Can suggest programs based on what I've watched. But it can't cache the channel line-up and programming info, so there's an incredibly irritating pause every time you click the remote.
    -Can play video games from 1994, but it can't make the remote emit a sound so I can find it in the cushions. We've needed this feature for decades, but instead we get a gutted hole that used to be HDMI out o
  • I thought television sets came "cable-ready" -- haven't they done so for like twenty years now? Why would you rent something that was obsoleted in the early 90s?
  • by danwesnor (896499) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @08:51PM (#33903188)
    The barrier isn't technological, it's psychological. My mom has a cable box she doesn't need. The installer told her she needed to get cable. I told her to take it back and demand a refund. She won't. During the 80's, you had to have a box to get channels above 13, because that was the highest a TV could tune. Then the FCC mandated cable-ready TV's, and you didn't need a box at all except for pay TV. There was no education or information given to the public, so a lot of people went through the 90's still believing they need a box, and the cablecos still play on that. The only was to solve the problem is to educate the public, something like forcing the cablecos to hand their customers a pamphlet clearly showing what channels do and do not require a box.
    • This used to be the case. Now some networks are going digital, so the built-in tuners in even modern TVs do not work.

      Case in point, Verizon FIOS used to work without a box. Now you need one.

      The QAM tuner only gets the basic network broadcasts.

      • by danwesnor (896499)
        The QAM tuner can get all clear channels. Some places you get more than just networks. I get Braves TV in HD, for example. I also get about 5-10 other SD digital channels (NASA, etc.). But your point is correct for fiber systems. My point is, a lot of people are paying for the box when they don't need to, and until the FCC addresses that, cable viewers will still keep renting the cablecos box. In related news, my cableco is still hit-or-miss then you call and ask for CableCARD, even though they've bee
    • some system had analog cable scrambled for all channels.

  • by kimvette (919543) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @08:54PM (#33903212) Homepage Journal

    I would run one in a heartbeat - especially since I now live in a city where Comcast has deployed Motorola rather than Scientific Atlanta. (on Scientific Atlanta the ESATA ports are enabled, and on Motorola they are disabled). I like having the ability to keep an entire season of certain shows on the PVR/DVR to re-watch at my leisure.

    However, there is a problem; most CableCard-capable PVRs available on the market, at least last time I looked into them, did not support OpenCable Host Device services, so watching On Demand content isn't (or wasn't) possible. Also, aside from client apps on a PC or Mac, management of viewing, recording, and deleting content on a Tivo requires about 3x as many clicks as does the cable company's PVR. The Tivo still doesn't(?) support OCAP:

    http://www.engadget.com/2010/03/02/dnptivo-premiere-and-premiere-xl-usher-in-a-brand-new-interface/ [engadget.com]

    Both models will do up to 1080p output and have single multistream CableCARD slots and eSATA jacks for storage expansion; the $299 Premiere will do 45 hours of HD recording on the 320GB internal drive, while the $499 XL will do 150 on 1TB and adds in THX certification. The bad news? There's still no support for tru2way, so you still won't have access to your cable company's video on demand service -- although one of the screenshots has a Comcast logo on it, so we're intrigued.

    • No, TiVo still doesn't get on-demand from Comcast. And it still isn't as good of an experience as my old ReplayTV. But it's better than the Comcast box.
    • by Vegeta99 (219501)

      I cannot cite myself right now, but you should look into recent rulings passed - I don't recall if it was Congress or just an FCC rule, but cable companies are no longer permitted to disable IEEE1394 ports. I'm in Phoenix, and the Cox assholes disable them by default, but according to AVSForum and other source, a stern phone call to them gets them re-enabled. It's not quite as nice as just adding a hard drive, but you can run a little mythtv box and have better functionality than the shitbox Comcast gives y

  • and get some line sharing going.
    One big fat rented pipe and any telco, isp, tv, digital service you like.
    No contract, long term, bundles, get some light and entrepreneurship flowing back into the dark cartels and sealed single providers.
  • Until cable companies and their subsidiaries are forbidden to design, manufacture, sell, lease, rent or otherwise provide hardware, they will have too much control.

  • currently consumers overwhelmingly choose to rent a box from their cable provider
    Back when I had cable a couple years ago, there was no choice. If I wanted the deal, I *had* to rent the box. It sat under my sofa for a year, collecting dust and costing me money until I just had enough of it and canceled the service.

  • i worked as tech support for a cable company in souther california. the only guy who was honest about the specific flaws of each model of box was the guy who trained us. he told us what problems to expect and how often, basically saying that all the boxes in one way or another were crap, even the 'new' ones. according to him, the main reason the company did not allow customer owned boxes, was because most of them were not compatible with our proprietary software. (read into that what you will) his since
  • This will date me, but I can remember the day when EVERYONE had to rent a telephone from Ma Bell. Rotary dial and then the Princess phone. Technology really got pushed along in those days.
  • Seriously, when did the FCC grow a pair? This is fantastic there have been things coming out left and right that seem like they are shutting down the anti-competitiveness of cable companies and for the consumer. All good things must come to an end though, I am afraid what really bad piece they are waiting for to come out. I'd totally vote for the person driving all this over at the FCC for president. He totally freaking rocks.
  • by eyegone (644831) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @10:06PM (#33903794)

    Remember those?

    I'd kill to have a setup that my 75-year old mother could actually use. (She's just never going to be able to get the idea of separate components, and I've never found a "universal" remote control that she can use.)

    Monopolistic a$$hats.

  • They let you BUY THE BOX or RENT IT.

    They have theme packs and pick and some All a carte cable.

    Why can't you buy the same box comcast uses that has cable card in it?

    Why is cable card locked out of VOD?

    Why do you need a add on SDV tuner?

    Why do some cable rent moxi boxes that can do SDV and VOD but when you buy your own NO VOD and SDV needs add on box?

    Why is the RCN TVIO that can do VOD rent only and forces you to buy RCN HSI as well?

    Why can comcast trun on the same cable box they have on there systems that yo

  • Unlike a lot of comments advocating savings in cutting the leased equipment, I am OK with continuing to lease the providers box and so on, after having tried OTA, boxless basic programming and using the box as prescribed.

    However, likethis epinion review for US service says [epinions.com] response times for digital boxes are horrible. They are the most easily noticeable problem even by visitors. Analog boxes are simple, have lightweight remotes and lack today's "lightshow" happy LEDs.

    Today, the java-fication of everything

  • by pongo000 (97357) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:18PM (#33904292)

    ...to have Time-Warner install a CableCARD on my Moxi DVR. First off, T-W resolutely refuses to allow customers to self-install. They require a technician to come out and make a call to the "head office" to relay information from the DVR that requires the DVR owner (in this case, me) to pull up. Then, it takes about 2-1/2 additional hours to figure out that the INIT sequence wasn't being properly sent by T-W. Of course, all this time T-W is telling me it's my DVR (even though T-W specifically identifies the Moxi as a "supported" DVR). In the end, it cost me $35 and 3 hours of my time (2 hours of that spent online chatting with a Moxi engineer who was telling me what to tell the cable guy) to deal with T-W's ineptitude when it comes to CableCARD support.

    Contrast this to Comcast: I walked into the Comcast office, picked up a CableCARD for my mom's 8-year-old rear projection Mitsubishi, plugged it in, called Comcast, and was up and running in about 1/2 hour. Total cost? $0.

    Unfortunately, I don't think the FCC's new regs will address gross technical incompetence on the part of some cable TV providers.

    • by ragnarok (6947)

      Actually the new rules do address this. They are required to allow you to do self installs of cable cards now, so at least you won't have to set up a service appointment and have a clueless tech come out to do the install.

      Now if you're a TW customer and lucky enough to be in an SDV area you'll also need a Tuning Adapter that will fail every 30 days until you have a couple of service calls for that, but I guess we'll need to wait another 5 years for the next FCC ruling to fix that...

  • People complaining about how their digital TV, Netflix, On-Demand and cable modems are suffering severe glitches (black screen, jerky/lost picture/audio, aborted DLs) because of all the people using the limited cable bandwidth.

    I foresee a big push for faster "High Speed Broadband" in the near future. I use quotes because in the US its anything but, unless your lucky enough to have fiber in your community, and be able to afford it, and even then ...

    _

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