6 million may lose digital TV reception

Garrett Wollman wollman@bimajority.org
Wed Feb 20 21:30:03 EST 2008

<<On Wed, 20 Feb 2008 18:09:57 -0500, Roger Kirk <rogerkirk@ttlc.net> said:

> Garrett Wollman wrote:
>> Boxes are evil (and Comcast's digital box is particularly so).
> Evil?

> Mine has never spewed green goddess salad dressing, twisted its head 360 
> degrees or even dampened the rug.

> How so?  Perhaps a couple of details?

Cable boxes are about as evil as you can get in the entertainment
industry.  Suppose you go out and spend a few bucks on a nice new TV.
New TVs (and other devices with tuners in them like DVRs) have a whole
host of consumer-friendly features, which give you a great deal of
control over your viewing experience.  Most importantly, every TV made
in the past two decades has allowed users to program out the fifty to
seventy-five channels their cable system delivers to them that they
have absolutely no use for.  Cableco, of course, doesn't want that,
and makes it practically impossible.  (Comcast, for example, provides
a "favorites" function on their digital boxes, but it only allows
channel surfing *in one direction*, doesn't limit what is shown in the
program guide, and requires locating a small button on the remote.)
They certainly don't want you using your own DVR when they can rent
you one instead.  If you have more than one tuner -- like the one or
sometimes even two in your DVR, for example -- add an extra box (with
associated rental fee) for each one.  The cable box is cableco's
primary means of controlling what their customers watch.

Even Congress recognized this (they probably had some help from the
Consumer Electronics Association), and in the Cable Act of 1992
required the FCC to consult with the cable and electronics industries
and then promulgate a standard interface for a "point-of-deployment"
descrambling device which would integrate directly with consumer
electronics, and which cablecos would be required to provide to their
customers at no additional charge.  Since the U.S. couldn't possibly
use a pre-existing design that was already proven and working in
Europe (DVB-CI), it took the FCC a decade to implement this rule.
High-end TVs began supporting the U.S. standard, CableCARD, in 2004,
with most manufacturers offering the interface in all but the cheapest
digital TVs in the 2006 model year.  TiVo included CableCARD slots in
its DTV-capable PVRs.  Then, suddenly, the CableCARD interface was
dropped by most manufacturers for the 2007 model year; this is
apparently the result of a dispute between the electronics and cable
industries over adding support for two-way cable services like
pay-per-view.  (In short: the cable companies want complete control
over the "user experience" for these services, whereas the electronics
companies want to allow their customers to choose how much extra they
want to spend for the "ability" to let cableco control how they watch
PPV movies.)

I had placed an order for a refurbished 2006 TV with CableCARD support
late last year, but the seller was unable to keep track of their stock
and eventually decided that they didn't have any.

You can perhaps tell how much trust I have in the good faith of the
cable oligopoly.


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