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Cable Technology Feature Article

March 13, 2014

TiVo Heads to Congress to Support Integrated Set-Top Box Ban

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

A provision in the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) would lift the ban on integrated set-top boxes (STBs), which is actually a mandate that operators use CableCARD security add-ons for channel encryption and digital rights management (DRM). TiVo (News - Alert), however, is arguing that dropping the ban would unfairly disadvantage third-party STBs like its Roamio box.

TiVo senior VP and general counsel Matthew Zinn, gave testimony at a hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee on a draft of the bill. He said the provision would "undermine the retail market for set-top boxes and deprive consumers of choice,” and that it was a "completely unrelated provision that was slipped in to the STELA reauthorization legislation pushed by a cable lobbying group to eliminate choice in how consumers watch cable programming."

In 1996, Congress ordered the FCC (News - Alert) to establish rules to promote the development of third-party cable STBs, with regulations requiring that the cable industry develop standards that would enable third-party devices to interoperate with the incumbents' networks and unscramble channels for authorized users. The CableCARD was the fruit of that.

Cable incumbents would, of course, prefer to have customers use their own proprietary set-top boxes, to maintain maximum control over the customer UI and therefore additional revenue streams from video on demand (VOD) and so on.

Zinn explained that "the provision inserted into STELA would repeal the requirement that cable operators use the same security standard in their boxes as they make available for retail boxes and allow operators to lock out competitive devices, by—as they did before the 'integration ban' became effective—offering superior access to programming and functions to their own devices, and inferior and faulty access to competitive devices."

With no ban, there will be "no requirement for cable operators to use CableCARDs themselves and no requirement to supply CableCARDs to new retail devices.”

He concluded that consumers should be able to "use whatever computer, telephone or cell phone they want to utilize the Internet or wireless networks."

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

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