DTV Primer

Chris Llana, Editor


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The Other (CableCARD) Shoe Has Dropped

August 16, 2006

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), a.k.a. the cable industry lobby, filed a Request for Waiver with the FCC today that would do away with the integrated set-top-box ban altogether. Forget about waivers for individual set-top-boxes!

The Request argued that the blanket waiver was "necessary" to "assist" the cable industry's development of "new and improved" digital cable, voice, and broadband services.

A worthy public policy objective if I ever heard one!

More specifically, the waiver was necessary to "assist cable operators' continued entry into the voice services market." Providing cable TV is not enough! And not to forget about the need to "sustain" the cable industry's "rapid deployment and improvement of broadband services."

And to think the integration ban was originally imposed by Congress to encourage competition in the cable TV set-top-box market! They were certainly short-sighted. They apparently should have been writing legislation to encourage the expansion of the cable industry empire.

Well, to be truthful, the NCTA is not asking for a permanent waiver--just until the end of 2009. By then the transition to digital TV will have been over for awhile and the FCC will have come to its senses about the need for an integration ban. The world will be a different place. (The Request for Waiver doesn't use those exact words, but close.)

In the meantime, the cable industry can continue with its lawsuits challenging the integration ban. And Congressional lobbying.

And in the meantime, the NCTA is suggesting that granting the waiver request will assist the transition to the digital TV standard because people getting their TV programming over-the-air will not need to use the $40 government subsidy coupon for a digital-to-analog converter box. Instead, they can switch to cable service and make use of a leased integrated cable-company-supplied set-top-box.

The government will save $40. (It will only cost the consumer $10,000 for digital-tier cable programming over the life of his or her $300 analog TV set.)

Well, the NCTA actually says the waiver would not have to be until 2010 if DCAS is universally adopted before then. That's Downloadable Conditional Access System, a software version of a CableCARD. It's the same argument they used to get the FCC to postpone the integration ban from this year to 2007.

DCAS is coming! It's wonderful! (We just need a little more time; all these different people have all these different ideas about what it should look like.)

I know you can't see DCAS now, but it's just over the horizon. Trust me.

Where have I heard that before?