While most of the FCC's new Broadband plan has been about, well, broadband, there's also some great news for HDTV fans. We expected a few mentions about CableCARD and its future when the FCC requested comments and declared it a failure, but we're still glad to see that the FCC listened to consumer electronics companies like TiVo and Sony -- among others. The biggest news is that the FCC has asked the industry to come up with a residential IP gateway that is open and that will provide same abilities as your provider's equipment, and most importantly, it should enable the very same gear to work no matter what type of service you prefer, whether it be satellite, cable or fiber -- for example, via various gateways the same TiVo would work with either DirecTV or Comcast. But while the FCC has given the industry until December of 2012 to define and deploy these IP gateways before implementing an "appropriate enforcement mechanism," in the meantime the FCC wants to see the biggest issues with CableCARDs resolved by this Fall. The list below of immediate fixes is pretty impressive, and other than the persistent lack of video on demand support, it'll help make CableCARD a pretty respectable solution.
- Ditch Tuning Adapters and let devices with Ethernet ports communicate upstream via IP to tune SDV channels.
- If a customer has a CableCARD in their leased set-top box, it must be reflected on the bill like any other CableCARD would.
- If the provider offers a self install for leased set-top boxes, they must also allow self install of a CableCARD.
- Software shouldn't require the same CableLabs certification hardware does.
All of these resolutions are a result of comments to the FCC -- that'll make you think twice before saying our system doesn't work -- with most of them coming as a result of TiVo's comments. The first is a result of the mess that SDV has made of CableCARD devices. TiVo told the FCC that SDV was killing 'em, and a quick read of any TiVo forum makes it easy to understand why. The Tuning Adapters aren't reliable and add an extra level of complexity that just isn't necessary when many devices like TiVos already have IP connectivity to the providers network via broadband.
The price transparency and self-install items are based on comments made by the Consumer Electronics Association and honestly make way too much sense. The few who actually use CableCARDs will probably tell you they had to do the install themselves -- despite paying the $50 for the truck roll -- so might as well let them skip the wait and save some money. And the price issue might seem silly at first glance, but currently the lack of transparency makes it easy for operators to overcharge CableCARD customers and makes it difficult for consumers to determine the real cost of buying their own box.
But the last one might just be our favorite, it would allow anyone to write software to support CableCARD tuners for PCs. This would mean that if SageTV wanted to support CableCARD it wouldn't have to pay thousands to CableLabs to be certified -- although it would have to pay for a PlayReady license as it's the only DRM currently approved. Now we always suspected that SageTV wanted to support CableCARDs and based on the fact that this new rule is because of comments by the company to the FCC, it appears to be the case.
Ultimately we applaude the FCC for finally coming up with a plan that will spur real competition in the set-top box space. Sure it took way longer than it should have, and sure we're probably fool hearted to believe that all of this will become reality, but one thing that is encourage is that unlike the majority of Broadband plan, Congress has already given the FCC the power to enforce these. Our fear is that this little light at the end of the tunnel will quickly die off once the cable and satellite companies have time to figure out a way to get out of it.