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Television Government

FCC Votes To Fight Cable's Reign Over Set-top Boxes (engadget.com) 186

Last month, reports surfaced that the FCC planned to pry set-top boxes out of hands of cable and satellite companies. Today, the Commission passed the 'Unlock the Box' plan that would do just that. The proposal aims to introduce more competition when it comes to the boxes users rent from television providers. Under the new rules, cable companies would have to give third-party device makers the information they'd need in order to build set-top boxes.
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FCC Votes To Fight Cable's Reign Over Set-top Boxes

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  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Thursday February 18, 2016 @03:53PM (#51536633)
    This is nothing but fighting over horsewhip handle designs. Cable industry days are numbered.
    • by ngc5194 ( 847747 )
      There is something to this. Nonetheless, I continue to be surprised that on rare occasion the FCC actually, you know, makes decisions that benefit the end-user and not the huge corporations that produce the majority of the commissioners and give them high priced jobs once they leave government service. Back in *my* day, this never happened. I'll take a small victory.
      • Naw, this is at least 3 decades too late. Any political/legal remedies they can conjure up at this point have been well superseded by technological ones.
        • Like what? No alternatives exist.
          • by mikael ( 484 )

            Back in the mid 1990's, I went out to buy a new TV (Sharp 24" flat-screen CRT). They were advertised as "cable-ready". They had a built in decoder that could access free-to-air cable channels. just plug in the connector from the cable network and no need for a decoder box. When I paid for a basic subscription, the cable company were completely confused as to why I was able to get service without a cable box. They had to send an engineer round to check it out.

            Today, we now have internet-ready TV sets that ca

            • "Cable ready" means that it can control more channels than OTA VHS and UHF band regular channels. That is all it means; it can control the already-decoded channels. In those days, you could connect a regular "non-cable-ready" TV to the cable, through the antenna input, and view the low-numbered cable channels. It was common in the 80s for families to have 1 cable box, and maybe a second TV (the old one, probably B&W) in another room that got the low channels, which usually included news and the local ch

        • Wait, you're claiming that cable set-top boxes stopped being used over 3 decades ago? Uhm... no, you're not really that splendid.

          Newsflash: this device is still being manufactured today!

    • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Thursday February 18, 2016 @04:14PM (#51536799)

      Cable industry days are numbered.

      No, they'll just jack up the prices for your internet service to make up for what you're not paying them for cable.

      • Cable industry days are numbered.

        No, they'll just jack up the prices for your internet service to make up for what you're not paying them for cable.

        Only if the current price is based strictly on competition. If instead there is very little local competition between companies offering equivalent services to the same addresses, then the price is based on "what the market will bear" and not on cost. In that case, the price that the market can bear would not change, and they wouldn't be able to raise prices without losing customers.

      • No, they'll just jack up the prices for your internet service to make up for what you're not paying them for cable.

        They are waaay ahead of you.

  • by Fire_Wraith ( 1460385 ) on Thursday February 18, 2016 @03:55PM (#51536647)
    Queue the various senators and congressmembers trying to tell us that actual competition is somehow anti-competitive and will stifle innovation in 3... 2... 1...
    • By "free market," what they mean is that the market is free to give them campaign donations to ensure that they're free to fuck over consumers as much as they want.

    • You mean Cue. As in cuing an actor for their lines. Not waiting in a queue. Because I'm pretty sure the members of Congress won't wait in line to give us this message

      • They will have to wait in line, because it is Republicans at the FCC who opposed, and so it is mostly only Fox News that will have a queue for speaking against it, because it is the natural bottleneck.

        All the other channels will only have one R and one D on the screen at a time, and the R's hate the FCC. D's in the trenches are used to the FCC being against freedom, and won't quickly jump to support them after just one or two good decisions. So it is mostly going to be one-way traffic; a line of R's queuing

    • "Queue the various senators and congressmembers"

      This would be a good first organization step before handing out indictments.

    • I know right away that both my Senators support real competition and support this change.

      Maybe you should just elect better Senators?

      I'll bet there are a number of States where it is obvious both Senators will support this change. They might even have other things in common, maybe even the same colored lapel pins. Maybe even the same color lapel pins as the FCC members who voted for this change!

      Granted, if your State's Senators have same-colored lapel pins as the FCC guys who voted against this change, then

  • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Thursday February 18, 2016 @03:56PM (#51536657)

    Didn't the FCC solve this with the Cable Card thing? I have a media server that emulates a cable box for my whole house. Works great.

    The only real problem here is that with the demise of Windows Media Center and Windows 7 there isn't a viable fully vetted option for me to turn to that will allow me to watch and DVR protected content. Yes, Silicon Dust is working on a version, but it's not yet certified (as far as I know) for protected content.

    The FCC already solved this issue. Why are they trying to solve it again?

    • by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Thursday February 18, 2016 @04:00PM (#51536687)

      Except you can never buy the cable card, the cable company "rents" it to you at the same price that a cable box would cost to rent.
      Its money for old rope. Its just an artificial dependency who's only purpose is to scam you out of another $15/month or whatever.

      • by thaylin ( 555395 )

        Exactly, I bought Tivos when I was younger, hoping to get better features and no monthly service fee for the boxes, ended up saving maybe $1 a month with the card over their boxes.

      • What are you talking about? The rates for a cablecard are ALREADY strictly regulated. Comcast charges $2/month for a cablecard, compared to $20 per DVR-enabled cable box. (Also, you can watch six channels at a time per cable card, but one channel at a time per cable box.)
      • Except you can never buy the cable card, the cable company "rents" it to you at the same price that a cable box would cost to rent. .

        In my case, this is not true. Your basic set top box on Verizon FIOS costs $12/month and the DVR box $25/month (as I remember). My cable card costs $5/month and I only need one card to watch/record on up to 3 programs at a time on as many screens as I can attach to my network.

        • by JustNiz ( 692889 )

          OK but my point is that you're still paying $5 a month for it.

          • OK, but given the encryption part of how all this works, I'm not sure how else to protect the video content but though some scheme where you have some kind of physical token that cannot be modified and allows the cable company to manage the content you are allowed to see. My point is that the FCC has mandated this solution to be Cable Cards, which works fine.

            Now if you are wanting to insist that we be allowed to purchase and own our own cable card from a provider and force providers to support customer

            • OK, but given the encryption part of how all this works, I'm not sure how else to protect the video content but though some scheme where you have some kind of physical token that cannot be modified and allows the cable company to manage the content you are allowed to see.

              They could always just provide the card as part of the service without an additional rental charge.
              • No, I don't think so. CableCARDs fit into a lot of things, TV's, TiVo's and other Third party devices so there is some costs, both up front and monthly for the cable company with CableCARDs. If you could request 20 of them for free, this might not be fair to the cable company. Perhaps if you had some kind of limit on the number you can get for free or something... But even then, they will just roll the costs into their prices...

                Right now, things work fine. For a very low monthly cost, they provide the c

            • It's called encryption keys. No need for a dongle.
            • It doesnt work 'fine' it works ok. Tuning adapters piss me off. The one they gave me was THREE TIMES the size of the PC i was going to use (Intel NUC) to record TV on. CableCards suck because the cable companies did everything in their power to fuck it up. Its the shittiest of compromises, not a great solution for providers and consumers.
              • I don't know there... I was able to set up my Homerun Prime with Windows Media Center in an afternoon... Based on your other posts you don't consider me all that bright so it cannot be THAT hard. Had I purchased a TiVo, I'm sure they have excellent customer support for new users. It's not like this is rocket science.

                Now if you cannot figure out how to make this work, you get to pay your provider for their turnkey solution and nothing the FCC can do will make that any different. The Cable Company isn't

                • I didnt say it was hard, i said it was a half-assed compromise that no one wanted. Why dont you just post 'RTFM' and go back to stroking your beard. I have been running a HTPC since before the term came to be. I have remote DVRs in two different locations (antenna for signal), with fault tolerance, automatic compression, upload and failover. i can handle the tech side. CableCard could have been a lot better, but no one cared enough to get along and do it right so we get Tuning adapters and ever-shifting cha
                  • I didnt say it was hard, i said it was a half-assed compromise that no one wanted.

                    What else can I assume if you are unhappy and having difficulty making it work for you. IF you wanted a turnkey solution, call TiVo, if not, roll your own. I don't see any reason the FCC needs to do anything else beyond the CableCARD. We already have third party access to the STB market though CableCARD. Now if your provider is messing with you and that's why you are so unhappy with your CableCARD solution, I suggest you file a complaint with the FCC...

                    It may be that the CableCARD solution was unwanted,

      • Completely untrue. Mine cost 1$ a month and is capable of decoding 4 streams at once.

        • You only even claim that it is untrue once. How many times is it true? Completely untrue, or just it has a few exceptions that prove the rule?

      • Except you can never buy the cable card, the cable company "rents" it to you at the same price that a cable box would cost to rent.

        My cableCard from Comcast is free.

        You can bet that any settop box solution that the FCC demands will have an encryption device that is not provided by the third party.

        And thanks, slashdot, for stuffing ads onto the same page where the "disable advertising" checkbox is still checked.

    • The problem is that there is near zero incentive for making these boxes. They need to prohibit cable manufacturers from supplying boxes - i.e. you can buy service from them, but you can't get a box. Nor can they carry a stake ownership in any manufacturer of a box.

      Seriously, why would you compete with someone who can (and will) always undercut you on price and also make it impossible for you to implement all of the features (because they own the rights to the cards). You said it yourself - "there isn't a v

      • But you can get a cable card from them, by law. If they cannot provide you a cable card, you complain to the FCC and force them to support them. It's the Cable Card that you need to decrypt the video stream and what your third party vendor needs to support. It's a known standard and it works.

        So, the FCC has already solved this problem. You can already buy third party set top boxes and tuners that use the cable card standard.

        • You really don't live in the real world where most people have never heard of cable card but they know what a STB is. So when they go to sign up for a service, they can choose between different boxes. Verizon, Time Warner, Comcast NEVER mention cable card. Hell they don't tell you you can watch their stuff without the STB using the tuner in your HDTV.

          The point is set top boxes are another monopoly that they have that can use competition and reduce price. Something cable card does not do.
    • Some access can be done via the cable card. However some companies require their boxes to make use of video on demand and other features.
      Since those extra features are what will keep you with that company verse another they then require that you get a box as part of any discounted offer. You don't have to use it and the discount more than pays for the box but it is still something that kills off competition and 3rd party boxes.
      • OK, so if the cable company offers streaming services, then the FCC has a point, but watching TV or having a DVR solution is already a solved problem. All they would really need to do here is mandate that the cable company provide a web interface for their streaming content which is available to customers on their networks. Something tells me though, the FCC won't go with the obvious solution....

        BTW, most of this already IS standard's based, even at the video streaming level. I forget the exact RFC's inv

        • Good grief it's not an obvious solution. You don't understand people do you.
        • Even the streaming solution is somewhat solved in that Comcast and other cable companies provide a means for you to stream their On-Demand content to your PC/tablet/phone. Of course with Comcast that uses up part of your monthly bandwidth limit if you are streaming to a device on their network (that isn't a STB/Cablecard) so that's still an issue.
    • Didn't the FCC solve this with the Cable Card thing? I have a media server that emulates a cable box for my whole house. Works great.

      The only real problem here is that with the demise of Windows Media Center and Windows 7 there isn't a viable fully vetted option for me to turn to that will allow me to watch and DVR protected content. Yes, Silicon Dust is working on a version, but it's not yet certified (as far as I know) for protected content.

      The FCC already solved this issue. Why are they trying to solve it again?

      There is no reason they can't just do it with software and a protocol for key exchange.

      • There is no reason they can't just do it with software and a protocol for key exchange.

        Ah, yes, they are working on that, but security requires that there be some kind of physical token, a piece of hardware, there to validate stuff. Plus, having a program running in memory of a device you don't control just invites hacking so I don't think the cable companies will let that happen. More importantly, I don't think the content providers will be willing to let the cable companies put their content at risk like that.

    • No they haven't solved this. Cable Card is not available every where and does not work well in all locations. This is another avenue. Letting people by different STB is a good thing.
      • CableCARD is mandated by FCC rule. If you have cable TV, your provider MUST provide you a CableCARD if you ask for it. If they don't, please complain to the FCC and get the situation fixed.
    • Cable card would have been a solution had the FCC not allowed the cable companies to create a certification laboratory that allowed them to throw red tape in front of any manufacturer. They also should have required that the Cable companies provide cable cards at no charge. The companies quickly figured out that charged a $10 rental fee for the card while only charging $12 for a full DVR quickly killed any market for the cards.

      Unfortunately because of the mistakes the FCC made in the cable card specificatio

  • by sims 2 ( 994794 ) on Thursday February 18, 2016 @04:01PM (#51536693)

    Why not provide the channels in clearQAM?

    In town both cable providers still have a lot of channels on analog cable. Both still charge extra if you want any digital channels.

    • Because they want to use that bandwidth for other services. Look at how DOCSIS 3.1 works and you can see that it's all about getting more use out of the same frequency bandwidth while ClearQAM is about utilizing the same frequencies for fewer channels but in the clear. I'm sure the move away from clearQAM for Comcast started out strictly as a way to make more money but now I think it's moved on to being about making more money by providing more services/channels/higher quality (HD over SD, 4K over HD).
      • by JustNiz ( 692889 )

        I don't know where you get the higher quality from. They lossily compress the hell out of most cable channels.
        OTA brodacasts are WAAAY better than anything over cable. The way they compress stuff currently, the only point of 4k via cable is so it looks good on paper to people who don't know any better.

    • Be like Canada where you can buy the box with no outlet fees (at lest up to 4 boxes on most systems)

      and they are getting pick and play real soon as well.

  • by pecosdave ( 536896 ) on Thursday February 18, 2016 @04:08PM (#51536743) Homepage Journal

    See, back in the day I built my own DVR with an NTSC tuner card and a Linux box. When they made it next to impossible to build your own DVR - I quit.

    That's right, I haven't had cable or satellite in years.

    I now watch whatever I think deserves my attention (not much) via Netflix, Amazon, occasionally the network/show website, or buy buying the disks when it comes out. Hulu was sort of in the mix for a while but I refuse to pay for commercials so it's off the list. I understand they may have a commercial free option now, I haven't bothered to look.

    If you really want to send a signal to these companies that you don't like being manipulated into getting their unnecessary spy^H^H^H tuning equipment you can start by not accepting their tuning equipment and keeping the dollars they so desire.

    • by JustNiz ( 692889 )

      Its not only easy to build your own DVR, it gives you a great solution.
      At home I have a linux-based media PC running mythtv with a Digital tuner card plugged into an antenna. and it works great. The picture quality is better than cable (OTA is much less agressive with the lossy compression), I can stream both live and pre-recorded TV, and (cough)ripped movies and music(/cough) all over the house, and anywhere in the world to my cell phone from it. Other than intiai setup costs, its totally free going forwa

      • I've thought about this - I was actually a MythTV early adopter back when I was using an NTSC card, but there isn't much on over the air I want to see. Suppose Agents of Shield, Super Girl, and the occasional mini-series, but I've found I'm happier waiting for the no commercials version. Still, I've got my Kodi system setup in a gen 1 Intel Mac Pro, I could easily slap a card in and do the MythTV combo setup without it being too difficult. Just having a hard time convincing myself to mess with "real TV"

    • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

      Commercial free unless you want to watch: Grey's Anatomy, Once Upon a Time, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Scandal, Grimm, New Girl Or How To Get Away With Murder.

      So no they still don't offer a commercial free plan.

      Cable here is still analog unless you want to pay extra $$ for digital I don't know if a box is required for the digital service in this area or not If a box is required the cable service will be dropped immediately when they drop analog service.

      Hoping they make digital standard soon catv looks

      • In this area is it digital ONLY. You have to pay extra for HD, but SD digital is the norm.

        I've been planning to put together a nice infographic explaining to HD subscribers how they're getting screwed with lower quality video due to the cable company doing a tiered system when they could better quality at HD and no difference on an SD set by making it all HD. I think there's an analog channel or two that basically tells you to go get a box if you don't have one and what you're missing without the box.

  • by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Thursday February 18, 2016 @04:10PM (#51536767)

    It seems clear that the whole need for a set top box is artificial, and that it s actually just another mechanism to justify the cable company adding another fee to your cable bill.

    All TVs already come with digital tuners, so serious question: Why can't they just legislate that cable companies have to supply standard QAM to the consumer, then we can do away with the whole stupid intermediate box thing entirely, and all the extra power/heat/cables/remotes that it requires and consumes too.

    • Yes! That's what I would love to see.
    • It seems clear that the whole need for a set top box is artificial, and that it s actually just another mechanism to justify the cable company adding another fee to your cable bill.

      All TVs already come with digital tuners, so serious question: Why can't they just legislate that cable companies have to supply standard QAM to the consumer, then we can do away with the whole stupid intermediate box thing entirely, and all the extra power/heat/cables/remotes that it requires and consumes too.

      This is 2016 - and

    • Because that would negate all the cable companies agreements with content providers. They need a method so that the cable company isn't forced to do something that violates their existing contracts.

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Thursday February 18, 2016 @04:27PM (#51536901) Journal

    This FCC vote broke down according to party lines, with the two Republicans voting against increased competition in regard to cable boxes and the three Democrats voting in favor.

    • by fnj ( 64210 )

      This FCC vote broke down according to party lines, with the two Republicans voting against increased competition in regard to cable boxes and the three Democrats voting in favor.

      Thank you. Hope this shuts up some of the tools who claim it makes no difference whether you vote fopr Tweedledee or Tweedledum.

  • I pay Comcast $2/month for a Cablecard. I plug that card into my primary TiVo and get TV on my main TV that way. (My primary TiVo shares the Cablecard over the network with the TiVo Minis hooked up to other TVs in my house.) In addition to cable TV, any TiVo in my house can get over the top services like Netflix and Amazon. (There's a bunch more, but those are the two I subscribe to.) I can also get Comcast Pay Per View over my TiVo.

    This isn't the FCC's utopian future. I bought all this stuff last year. T

  • There is no excuse for a TV to require a separate set-top box. Every digital TV already has all the hardware it needs build in. With this ruling we might even finally get TVs with Tivo functionality built-in.

  • If the FCC really wanted to bring about change, they would team up with the FTC and prevent ISP monopolies in certain areas and level the playing field for other companies to come in and compete.
  • I bought Tivo and am not switching back.

  • I used to care, then I sent Comcast packing, got an antenna and found other things to do with OTA and interweb streaming services didn't hold my attention.
  • by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Thursday February 18, 2016 @05:32PM (#51537445)

    Ok, I get it, not everyone lives where I do...

    But I have gigabit fiber to the home now, in fact both Verizon and AT&T have run fiber to my house, so I have both choices.

    If we would simply commit to deploying fiber to every home in the nation, removing all the old cable and phone lines, have you purchase your Internet connection from a regulated utility the way you buy power and water, then let the various companies (DirecTV, Comcast, Verizon, etc.) compete to sell you packs of channels, or channels by themselves, or better yet, programs and seasons, we'd all be better off.

    The need for cable/sat existed when everyone was on dialup or DSL, but with high speed cable or fiber growing, I think the days of that are numbered.

  • "...and ensuring that what consumers watch on television remains none of Google's business."

    So says an AT&T rep, now owners of direcTV which already has access to that info.
    I firmly believe this is a step in the right direction, but more than anything I'd like ala-cart channel selection. I want my sports, which I can't get unless I pay for the upper tier package which include dozens of movie channels I never tune into, many music stations that again never see the like of day on my TV. The delivery servi

  • by serbanp ( 139486 ) on Thursday February 18, 2016 @08:42PM (#51538719)

    It's interesting that Thomas Wheeler's FCC seems to be much more consumer-friendly than its preceding incarnations.

    I still remember the gloom-and-doom discussions here on /. when the ex Cable lobbyist was appointed by Obama... Fortunately, Wheeler seems to be a man of character, which is pretty rare these days.

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