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CableCARD, FireWire, and FCC Mandates

Regulatory oversight is a very important check in our government system of checks and balances. However, that doesn’t mean it always works. Two cable industry milestones in the last week illustrate this point vividly.

First, the NCTA reported that the largest US cablecos have now deployed more than 21 million set-tops with embedded CableCARDs. (via Light Reading Cable) Despite that fact, the FCC’s CableCARD mandate is widely considered a failure, and the agency is actively looking for potential alternatives. There is plenty of debate over why the CableCARD hasn’t been successful, but the biggest reason may be that it was just too hard to deploy the technology quickly enough to keep up with other advances in the market.

Example #2: Last week the FCC withdrew another mandate requiring cable operators to include a FireWire connector, or 1394 port, on all set-tops. The reason? Nobody uses FireWire. Industry veteran Leslie Ellis explains it very succinctly in a post over at Multichannel News. After pouring $400 million into 1394 deployments, cable operators have clear evidence that HDMI is the connector people really want.

Ask any cable engineer how many subscribers requested 1394, since the mandate. I did, back in March, of the CTO of a cable company with about 5 million subscribers. His answer? Five. (Five. Out of 5 million. In five years.)

There is a natural conclusion to be reached from these examples. Any further FCC mandates in the cable industry – think home gateway device – should be handed down with caution. The best intentions don’t always produce the best results.

3 Responses

  1. People would have used FireWire except it was crippled. The sad thing about FireWire is that it would have made cable card totally not needed.

    • Absolutely. It’s a meaningless statistic when applied to an interface that isn’t completely implemented. Try having the STB software actually allow something useful to take place through the 1394 port.

  2. [...] CableCARD, FireWire, and FCC Mandates The NCTA reported that the largest US cablecos have now deployed more than 21 million set-tops with embedded CableCARDs. Despite that, the FCC’s CableCARD mandate is widely considered a failure, and the agency is actively looking for potential alternatives. 3D Hastens MPEG-4 Transition The added demands of 3D programming were bound to hasten the transition from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4, and now Engadget HD is reporting that Comcast will rely solely on MPEG-4 to deliver 3D signals starting in August. [...]

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