The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has floated the idea of sweeping changes to set-top box security with its “Allvid” proposal (MB Docket No. 10-91, CS Docket No. 97-80, PP Docket No. 00-67) but, for now, the agency seems content with making small changes to the existing regulations.
In January, the FCC issued an "Order on Reconsideration" (CS Docket No. 97-80, PP Docket No. 00-67, CSR-7902-Z) pertaining to CableCARD devices. Of particular interest is paragraph 5 of that order:
"We now clarify that leased set-top boxes with integrated security may include an IP interface but only to the extent that the interface is not used to access cable operator-provided on-demand or cable operator-provided digital video recorder services. This prohibition is intended to prevent cable operators from subverting the spirit of the integration ban exemption for one-way, non-recording set-top boxes. It does not preclude a subscriber from using the IP connection to connect to a recording device purchased at retail."
This all harks back to the FCC’s 2007 requirement that cable operators provide set-top boxes with separable security. The CableCARD requirement was intended to promote innovation and consumer choice in the video device marketplace but, since that mandate, the FCC has granted exemptions for digital terminal adapters (DTAs).
Evolution Digital received a waiver for its low-cost DTAs with limited capability and embedded security, and other set-top manufacturers quickly followed suit, applying for and receiving waivers as well. The FCC even has granted waivers for HD set-tops. For more, click here.
"We believe this ruling opens the door for a lot of new innovative services that can be offered on a low-cost DTA and will help act as a ‘bridging device’ to help operators migrate to an all IP network," says Brent Smith, president of Evolution Digital.
But for larger operators that already offer VoD services and would like to move them over an IP network, the FCC’s clarification will not help. "If you don’t already have a VoD service, it’s good news," comments Smith. "It means a low-cost DTA with an IP connection can be deployed; and third-party, on-demand service can be made available to the consumer. It’s a way for customers to get access to more third-party, on-demand content."
Why does the FCC appear to be restricting big cable operators? The agency could be trying to find a middle ground by encouraging over-the-top video with IP-connected DTAs while not putting power back into the hands of operators to be the gatekeeper of services that could run on top. That was the original point of CableCARDS.