Worse Than a CableCARD?


“We are getting away from set-tops,” points out Matt Polka, president and CEO of the American Cable Association. Speaking at last week’s WEC 2016 conference, Polka was referring to the migration of his MVPD members’ licensed programming to IP set-top boxes, TVs and hand-held devices through the magic of Apps. He expresses concern that the proposed FCC changes (PDF) – that would require the decoupling of service discovery, entitlements and content delivery so they could be reassembled by a third-party device – would be especially costly to the smaller operators the ACA represents.

The concern is that proposed rule-making would require modifications in the headend and/or new gateways in the home that would be difficult for smaller operators, with relatively small customer bases, to amortize the common costs. Implicit in his comments is that costs would ultimately be passed through to the subscriber or it could mean operators dropping out of the video distribution business. So, although there might be savings from the annual $231/household the FCC reports is spent leasing set-tops, there will be costs associated with any savings.

Polka calls the FCC’s last attempt at creating an open market for set-tops a failure, which Congress recognized in its 2014 decision to end the CableCARD mandate, Congress didn’t give up on the idea of an open market for set-tops and commanded that the Chairman of the FCC

“…shall establish a working group of technical experts representing a wide range of stakeholders, to identify, report, and recommend performance objectives, technical capabilities, and technical standards of a not unduly burdensome, uniform, and technology- and platform-neutral software-based downloadable security system designed to promote the competitive availability of navigation devices in furtherance of section 629 of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 549).”

The February 18th vote for Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is an output of the above process. Stay tuned and read the various comments on the FCC web site.

[Disclosure: The questions in the above video were mine, but the above video was made available courtesy of NCTC, producer of WEC 2016. Further, ViodiTV will be covering next week’s 2016 ACA Summit, courtesy of the ACA. See the first part of the above interview with Matt Polka to get a preview of that event].