FCC should Force Satellite to use cablecards?

Discussion in 'TiVo Coffee House - TiVo Discussion' started by Justin Thyme, Sep 17, 2005.

  1. Sep 17, 2005 #1 of 152
    Justin Thyme

    Justin Thyme Contra sceleris

    Mar 29, 2005


    I can't believe how stupid I've been. For the longest time, I have assumed that Satellite carriers were exempt from FCC regulations because Satellites weren't coverred by them. I didn't really think why- I just assumed it had to do with some obscure federal laws about what the FCC's jurisdiction was- cablecos were very much like a power company but Digital Broadcast Satellite (DBS) wasn't, so no jurisdiction.

    Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

    Classic AT and DT_DC cleared this up in a question having to do with DirecTv.

    Direct link: http://gullfoss2.fcc.gov/prod/ecfs/...ment=2101780002

    Now many people may not want to wade through the bureaucratease of that, but there were a couple reasons that I will probably inaccurately summarize as the following:
    1. Satellite was new and small (8% of the market at the time). Traditionally, regulators exempt newcomer businesses from new initiatives.
    2. Satellite boxes could be purchased by a large number of third party vendors, and competition was very healthy between them.
    3. Third party Satellite boxes may be used nationally and interchangably between different services. The carriers did not have a stranglehold on producing the boxes as the cable companies did.

    Oh how the world has changed.

    First off, the satellite world bears little resemblence to the one where folks could go buy one of those enormous satellite dishes that could be pointed at several different satellites, and where you could buy a box that would allow you to tune in a bewildering amount of US and foreign content. In Europe, satellite broadcasting dominates the market, and in America, the cable companies are very concerned about their steady losses to satellite companies like Direct and Dish. These companies are hardly frail newcomers.

    Secondly, there no longer is a great deal of choice for satellite offerings. Currently Rupert Murdoch has effective control of DirecTv, and the SkyTv satellite businesses in Europe and in Asia. Both Dish (echostar) and DirecTv have been in discussions on merging.

    Thirdly, I don't think anyone could argue that there is any kind of thriving business of third party providers of satellite boxes. If you want to have Dish or DirecTv, you are forced to use their box, and you cannot use a box you paid them for to use interchangably with a different satellite provider. You are locked in with your investment, and the satellite provider has a natural monopoly due to the barriers to switching.

    The reasons for exempting Satellite companies from the cablecard requirement no longer exist.

    They are behemoths that have global reach and control not only the manufacture of the boxes, and the delivery, but in growing degrees, even the content.

    Why is it relevant to Tivo?
    • Wouldn't Tivo be able to petition the FCC to allow customers of Direct to switch their DirecTivo support to Tivo?
    • Isn't the FCC refusing to do their job in assuring that boxes may be used interchangably? Tivo as well as a number of other DVR manufacturers would love to build one box that you can simply plug a Comcast, DirecTv, or Dish Network card into, and that you can order your services from whichever carrier provides the best services on any particular month. Doesn't this encourage competition? Isn't that what the FCC's job is in regulating the industry?
    • Should Direct and Dish be able to dictate all features do and do not appear in the boxes that access their services? Comcast and Viacom aren't allowed to manufacture their own boxes- Why should Direct?
    • On boxes like DirecTivo's that they do not manufacture, why should the carrier be allowed to control all software so that they can effectively control all features regardles who manufacturers the box? Isn't that situation tantamount to same situation Congress intended to prohibit? In other words, shouldn't DirectTv be prohibted from disabling Tivo features on Tivo boxes?

    If Tivo and other DVR manufacturers like Sony Pioneer Panasonic and Samsung had the the ability to compete on an even playing field with the carrier provided boxes, we'd have a heck of a lot more choice and versatility in switching providers and thereby get the carriers to compete on the ridiculous charges they get away with taking from our pocketbooks month by month.
  2. Sep 17, 2005 #2 of 152

    dylanemcgregor Well-Known Member

    Jan 31, 2003
    Corner of...
    Well, I don't know if I can say the FCC should do this, but I know I certainly would like it if they did. And I think it would end up being a boon to the sat providers as well. If cable card takes off and people start investing money in TV sets and TiVos and other cable card devices, that will start to be a powerful disincentive for consumers to switch to sattelite. I can't see why the sattelite companies have not actually lobbied to be included in the specification, but I am sure I am missing something.

  3. Sep 17, 2005 #3 of 152

    classicsat Astute User

    Feb 18, 2004
    Ontario Canada.
    For DBS, the receivers weren't interoperable across providers, for the most part, if you consider DirecTV and USSB as one provider. There was a service on IA5 that uses Echostar receivers, as does Skyangel. There was some ethnic service that used DirecTV format.

    You could never purchase a provider agnostic box for any US based DBS service, and use it with either DirecTV/USSB or Dishnetwork. That has been the situation since day one of DBS in the USA.

    And the market wasn't as open as it seemed. The first million DirecTV receivers had to be RCA, and further manufacturers then released their receivers.

    Echostar didn't really have brands. There may have been some JVC, Philips, and RCA boxes, thats it. Most of their boxes are Echostar branded, either as Dishnetwork, or their old brand HTS.

    On the other hand, there were all sorts of analog C-band receivers, which accepted a standard descrambler module or external descrambler, and you could choose to buy your programming from one or more companies (you still can to some degree, except there is ony one provider of Digital pay receivers for home C-band, analog nearly gone).

    That world is still there, it has just evolved from the way it was 10-20 years ago.
    True, it is more a hobbiest thing than a means to an end to get TV, but that is the way it goes.

    AFAIK, talks stopped when it was either clear, or Murdoch had closed the deal to purchase DirecTV.

    Who said satellite boxes had to play. IMO, although universal satllite receiver would be a good thing, the FCC has decided to do nothing with them than, and should do nothing now.
    IOW, if they wanted universal satellite recievers, they should have said so long ago.
    Yes, they should, to protect the rights of them and their programmers, so a box does support Macrovision, the ablity to spit out song titles as text our a serial port, by all means.
    Comcast and Viacom (I time you meant Time Warner), don't have to build boxes, SA and Motorola do.

    I think technologically, a universal DirecTV/Dishnet box could be done, but the providers are in too deep to let that happen, especially for higher end STBs such as DVRs

    Now an STB that would do either cable/otaa or satellite would be harder, as in addition to conditional access, you would need a a satellite tuner, separate from a cable tuner, as the technology on the RF side is radically different on satellite than cable.
  4. Sep 17, 2005 #4 of 152

    montge New Member

    Dec 25, 2004
    Lets reverse this around. Why didn't the cable industry or terrestrial TV adopt/work with our international counterparts to establish a common standard. Cablecard is very technically simular to the way DVB (mostly related to the CA standards) set of standards works. It also seems like ATSC is pretty simular in a lot of ways to the DVB standards also, with most of the differences being related to audio encoding, and video sizing. (For those that are interested, look up DVB-T, DVB-C, DVB-S in google and you'll see additional info on these standards.)

    Why did the US cable industry and TV industry re-invent the wheel on this? They could have adopted a well established standards that a large percentage of the world uses.

    As far as I can tell it's all came down to business, the license holders of DVB wanted to much money, so the US cable and terrestrial TV industry decided to develop it's own standards that are basically the same but with just enough differences to not have to license them.

    So my basic answer is NO, they shouldn't, it's a free market
  5. Sep 17, 2005 #5 of 152

    dmdeane sedentary adventurer

    Apr 17, 2000


    Let us also not forget the new IPTV services that are on their way. Already in certain areas you can get very fast, much faster than cable or DSL, broadband service, and later you'll be able to get TV over this via IP, or so I understand:


    I would hope that these new IPTV services won't reinvent their own proprietary standard, forcing us to get special IPTV boxes; they should join the CableCARD standard and save us all the extra annoyance of yet another incompatible TV standard.
  6. Sep 17, 2005 #6 of 152

    MighTiVo TiVotarian

    Oct 26, 2000
    Nashville, TN
    Sorry for the bad news, MS has most US Telcos using a MS proprietary standard.

    Too bad TiVo doesn't have the money and the clout to get fully into the IPTV game. After all, Series 2 TiVo's are essentially ready for basic IPTV services today!
    Sure would be a nice way to ease IPTV into 2million households instead of requiring a forklift of consumers existing STBs and existing services.
    As I understand it, the telcos just don't have enough faith that TiVo will be around to invest in using their technology.
  7. Sep 18, 2005 #7 of 152

    jsmeeker Notable Member TCF Club

    Apr 2, 2001
    A co-worker showed me the lineup for FIOS for his community. Pretty impressive. ALL the local stations in HiDef. Too bad it will be years, if ever, before I see something like that where I live.
  8. Sep 18, 2005 #8 of 152

    thwart New Member

    Jul 26, 2004
  9. Sep 18, 2005 #9 of 152
    Justin Thyme

    Justin Thyme Contra sceleris

    Mar 29, 2005
    The FCC never said the DBS exemption from the cablecard requirement was to be granted in perpetuity.

    The aim of the cablecard requirement was to bring to video networks the same principle of allowing non phone company manufacturers to build phones that attach to the phone network.

    The FCC said as much. [The Cablecard principle] "is similar to the Carterfone principle adopted by the Commission in the telephone environment. The Carterfone "right to attach" principle is that devices that do not adversely affect the network may be attached to the network." Source: FCC release regarding cablecard decision, 1998

    To roughly paraphrase the policy document DT_DC cited, the FCC decided to exempt the DBS providers because 1) they were small and weak newcomers, 2) there was a healthy business for third party provided boxes and 3) The satellite companies did not have a stranglehold on the production of navigation devices.

    None of these conditions are true today.

    Currently, consumers do not benefit from any such competitive third party market of providers of navigational devices. The will of Congress has not been executed by the FCC. With flagrant disregard for Congress's goal and the FCC's authority, both the cablecos and the DBS companies are intent on closing out third party DVR providers from accessing their data services directly in ways any ways even vaguely similar to what we have with POTS or Cell phones. The original date for cablecards was originally July 2000. Five years later, we are still waiting, and meanwhile the FCC is letting the CableCos get away with murder. As for the DBS companies? They have an even better deal.

    Let's put aside the question of whether it was correct of the FCC to require Cablecos to use cablecards. If it is correct to require them to use cablecards, then because the reasons for exempting DBS companies no longer are valid, it is consistent with FCC stated rationale and stated policy to require DBS companies to support use of such access cards in third party devices.

    Where have I erred?

    Granted, if I have not erred, given FCC's track record, I fully realize we might not see a DBS "cablecard" standard until 2012.

    I guess the near term question of the greatest immediacy has to do with remedies that companies can realistically petition the FCC to put in place within the year.

    For example, consider opening up DirecTivo service support.

    If it was Congress's desire that companies like Tivo be able to compete with Provider supplied boxes, then what rationale can the FCC provide for allowing DirecTv to prohibit users of DirecTivo's from switching their support from Direct To Tivo, and getting new software from Tivo instead? Why is it not realistic for the FCC to grant such a petition?
  10. Sep 18, 2005 #10 of 152

    dmdeane sedentary adventurer

    Apr 17, 2000
    Yeah, but this is like, what, the third or fourth attempt by MS to buy its way into the TV industry, is it not? I can see an infant industry allowing MS to shower it with money for a while (or with "free" software and hardware development or other services), but if IPTV really takes off, why would they not want to open their systems up to some competition rather than be shackled to MS, especially when something open, and mandated by the FCC for cable, already exists in the form of CableCARD? My real curiosity is whether the FCC can mandate CableCARD for the IPTV folks as well; I'm uninformed on the legal and regulatory aspects, not to mention the technical problems. Just curious.
    IPTV is far too new and speculative a thing for TiVo to waste its limited resources on at the moment. Look how long it is taking TiVo to get into CableCARD, for instance. But I wouldn't count TiVo out of the game just yet. If TiVo continues to expand its relationships with cable TV and IPTV grows up as a competitor to cable TV, we'll see TiVo working up similiar relationships with the telcos. I doubt very much the telcos signed any truly exclusive deals with MS that they can't be free of in a year or two.
    Oh, TiVo will be around. "Faith" has nothing to do with it. MS bought their way into this party, and the telcos will gladly let MS buy them their drinks for the evening. But that doesn't mean that the telcos will be asking MS to spend the night with them afterwards. The telcos weren't "snubbing" TiVo; they were simply taking advantage of MS's desperation to buy into the TV business to help finance the early stages of their IPTV development.
  11. Sep 18, 2005 #11 of 152

    dmdeane sedentary adventurer

    Apr 17, 2000
    If your understanding of the law is correct in regards to DBS, I also assume it applies to the telco's move into IPTV. Has the FCC made any comments about IPTV? Or are they ignoring the issue? Are they asleep at the switch over there at the FCC, or is there an ideological commitment not to "interfere" with the "free market" regardless of what Congress intended?
  12. Sep 18, 2005 #12 of 152

    wolverines Member

    Jul 14, 2005
    Cablecard was a standard hammered out between the cable companies and the consumer electronics companies. Those cable cards are designed to work only with cable, not dbs. I don't think you'll see a day when we have a dbs standard. Market principles dictate otherwise. The cable companies don't compete with each other, use 2 primary suppliers (SA and Motorola) and it took them forever to come up with standard. Everyone wants something different. Given that, can you imagine the two competing dbs companies agreeing? I'd expect them to fight an FCC mandate tooth and nail.

    As a consumer I'd love to see it of course, but doubt I will.
  13. Sep 18, 2005 #13 of 152

    dmdeane sedentary adventurer

    Apr 17, 2000
    I know someone who has the FIOS broadband ISP service; he now usually hosts my coworker's XBOX Live Halo 2 games since his bandwidth is so much superior to ours. I believe they don't offer the IPTV yet in his community, but that might have changed. Unfortunately they don't even offer the FIOS broadband ISP service yet in my community, so I am condemned to wait. Just as well; I don't have an HDTV set yet and probably won't for many years. It's just not high yet on my list of priorities. I can wait. TiVo can wait too; standard def cable TV is still the "choice" (or rather default position) of the vast majority of TV users at the moment. That will change, but it still gives TiVo plenty of time. Most people aren't on the "cutting edge".
  14. Sep 18, 2005 #14 of 152

    JimSpence Just hangin'

    Sep 19, 2001
    Binghamton, NY
    I think the FCC should write a rule that allows DBS companies to let subscribers get all broadcast networks that they can't receive OTA and don't yet have locals via DBS. What? You say I can? It's called DNS waivers. But, that's only good for the four major nets, not WB or UPN.
  15. Sep 18, 2005 #15 of 152
    Justin Thyme

    Justin Thyme Contra sceleris

    Mar 29, 2005
    Maybe I misunderstood you, but Cable companies are actually hostile to the cablecard initiative and are doing everything they can to resist the FCC ruling that require them.

    The reason you don't have this[​IMG] in your home is not due to market forces. Market forces are in nearly all cases are good, however as with all things, there are exceptions. Market forces allow natural monopolies to dictate consumer choice, and most people think that is a bad thing.

    The cableco's are not doing cablecard because they want to. They hate the concept in the same way the Phone company hated the idea of consumers going to BestBuy to purchase any phone that suited their needs.

    If market forces had their way and alternate navigation devices were not allowed to access the phone company's network, then the phone company would have controlled your computer's access to the outside world. You may not recall acoustic coupler modems. Didn't the engineers realize it would have been much more reliable to connect their circuits directly to the phone line? Of course they did. But until the FCC came out with the Carterfone rulings that anyone should be able to make devices that connect to the phone network, it was illegal to do anything other than the acoustic coupler.

    It was more than being able to buy phones that look like Mickey Mouse. The growth of the internet would have been very very different if all modem manufacturing was controlled by the phone company.

    The Carterfone ruling was good for industry. It was good for consumer choice. I think that is all the FCC and Congress is trying to do with guaranteeing that third party companies can make devices that directly access the DBS and cable company networks.

    Why the Satellite companies should be exempted from the same requirement the cableco's must obey is beyond me. Interoperability and having a single standard is not the point. What is the point is being able to do the same thing you do when you buy any phone that suits you and plug it into the wall and it works. The world is much different now than the world of C and K Band big dishes accessing multiple satellites using satellite tuners available from a variety of third parties. That is not reality any more for 99.9% of satellite users. The only choice satellite users have for direct connection is what the satellite company forces down their throats.

    Ask any DirecTivo owner how they feel about being locked out of the features that all the other Tivo owners enjoy. Rupert Murdoch wants everyone connecting to Direct to use a DVR manufactured by another of his companies. He can fairly claim that his new DVRs will do everything that the DirecTivos do. Naturally, because he has not allowed the DirecTivos to get HME or TivoToGo or any other of the new features.

    Murdoch is doing it quite simply because he can.
  16. Sep 18, 2005 #16 of 152
    Justin Thyme

    Justin Thyme Contra sceleris

    Mar 29, 2005
    First off, I don't know jack about the law, or the regulatory environment. My background is software and to a much lesser extent, electronics engineering. Until before I read what DT_DC pointed to I completely misunderstood their policy on satellite companies. Like everyone else, I am here to learn, and just report back what I learn. If it is wrong, hopefully someone will correct me.

    Anyhow, if you take a look at the FCC policy document that DT_DC referenced above, you will see that they noted that they generally give waivers for newcomer companies and technologies. IMHO, that is goodness. We should be extremely reluctant to allow bureaucrats to interfere unless there is no other way to mitigate the few negative effects that unfettered market forces have. It is way to early to see how internet delivered television (IPTV) is going to play out. If consumer's are not being corralled into paying to the same vendor because it way to inconvenient to do otherwise, then why muck with it. Don't fix what isn't broken, and all that.

    But whether or not our societies general attitude about regulation should be one way or another is beyond the scope of this question. The fact is that we have a regulatory environment that requires cablecos to do one thing but doesn't require the same of satellite companies.

    Seems to me that it should be a level playing field between the cablecos and the DBS carriers like DirecTv and Dish Network.
  17. Sep 18, 2005 #17 of 152

    interactiveTV New Member

    Jul 2, 2000
    A level playing field is not the same as equal and same.

    If the goal is to force what was once a regulated monopoly (cable) to allow consumers to purchase rather than lease the set-top, cable card makes sense.

    The DBS companies aren't geographically restricted. If I buy a DirecTV box -- and I can *buy* one now -- I can move from NYC to Ohio to California to Texas and still use it. Cable card gives the consumer that same ability.

    It makes absolutely no sense to me to force a DBS to "open" their product to other set-top makers. On what basis? If consumers don't like the Direct choices on STB and programming, they can choose Dish. That isn't true with cable which originated as a regulated monopoly granted by a local authority. Since many places in the country *can't* use a DBS dish due to line of sight or other issues -- mainly cities including much of NYC -- the *only* consumer choice is cable.

    Should the FCC force a company to open its product because another -- a regulated monopoly is being forced to? How does that create a level playing field? It helps to define the field. If, for example, we say the field is allowing consumers to purchase a STB and be able to use it coast to coast, then the field already is level.

    Should we force Apple to allow *any* MP3 player to work with iTunes and thus create consumer choice and a "level" playing field? Heck no. They earned their place, it is still not a monopoly and plenty of consumer choice exists and you can't punish a company for success.

    A level playing field isn't equal and same. There is no reason why the DBS companies should be forced to allow *HUGE* consumer electronic companies to profit off the installed base of customers they have built. It isn't like Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, and Nokia are poor, little ants that need protection from the big anteaters.

    The fact is the regulatory requirements might require different things but that doesn't mean it isn't fair. Apple chose to not open its system, Intel and Microsoft did. If the products that evolve from Cable Card lure consumers in, the DBS companies will surely follow. With cable passing 103 million of the 106 million TV households (NCTA) and with the vast, vast majority of those served by only one cable company, it is an entirely different market situation. Almost any home that can get Direct can choose Dish if it wants.

    I see no snowballs chance in hell in the NCTA convincing anyone to force open the DBS set-top. I also don't believe they should be based on the consumer choice. I also think it would only increase consumer cost and delay the HD upgrades which are forthcoming.

  18. Sep 18, 2005 #18 of 152
    Justin Thyme

    Justin Thyme Contra sceleris

    Mar 29, 2005
    I see your point.

    The FCC is applying the free access for all phone manufacturers principle to Cable companies and not satellite providers for the benefit of New York city.
  19. Sep 18, 2005 #19 of 152

    bidger Active Member

    Mar 30, 2001
    Elmira, NY
    OK, you can start with me. IMO, it's no BFD. My SA TiVo can't offer me the features that my D-TiVos can, so it's only natural that the SA should offer features the D-TiVos can't.

    The mindset seems to be that SA and D-TiVos are one and the same. Funny, I knew there were differences when I bought my first set of each in 2000 and 2001. I expect TiVo to make choices on whatever features to offer on their sets that best benefit TiVo and DirecTV to do the same.
  20. Sep 18, 2005 #20 of 152

    dswallow Save the ModeratŠ¾r TCF Club

    Dec 3, 2000
    If you think TiVo would actually sell and support units for DirecTV services directly if they were permitted to, then you've probably made an assumption that's not necessarily based upon TiVo's historical behavior. They'd have to invest in design, manufacture, marketing and support themselves. TiVo hasn't shown the willingness to do this on their own. They haven't even gone very far with the one product line they do market on their own -- the standalone unit and the DVD standalone unit. Where's the standalone HD/ATSC unit? Vaporware repeatedly, year after year of dog-and-pony-shows with such products. TiVo needs a partner to accomplish most anything. Without DirecTV's desire to have TiVo involved, TiVo won't be. Even if the FCC says they can.

    The FCC making a rule is not an automatic guarantee of anything except of an increase in bureaucracy.

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