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FCC now allowing STB competition
Old 02-19-2016, 06:03 AM   #1
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FCC now allowing STB competition

The new regulation is still in the comment stage and could be modified, but cable providers now have 2 years to comply and allow consumers to choose a set top box.

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Today (Feb. 18), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to approve new rules that would open the cable box to third-party competition, thereby releasing the cable companies’ stranglehold on the device through which hundreds of millions of Americans access TV.
More here The FCC has moved closer to letting Americans dump their crappy cable boxes - Quartz
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Old 02-19-2016, 08:00 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by MichaelB View Post
The new regulation is still in the comment stage and could be modified, but cable providers now have 2 years to comply and allow consumers to choose a set top box.

More here The FCC has moved closer to letting Americans dump their crappy cable boxes - Quartz
By the time they get around to it, I suspect that almost nobody will be using cable TV service other than commercial establishments. Seems like nearly everybody is dropping cable TV and going to Netflix. Or, like me just OTA.

I'm paying $73/month for cable internet because of the lack of competition. This is the same cable internet I got for $10/month fifteen years ago. Actually, it's not as good now; it was lightning fast back then. The price increase since 2000 has been worse than the price increase for health insurance, for me anyway.

Anyway, my point is that if they had a new regulation saying that they had to face competition for high speed internet, instead of just for the set top boxes, I'd be very pleased.
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Old 02-19-2016, 08:45 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by W2R View Post
By the time they get around to it, I suspect that almost nobody will be using cable TV service other than commercial establishments. Seems like nearly everybody is dropping cable TV and going to Netflix. Or, like me just OTA.
Cable TV Decline: Cord-cutting is accelerating faster than you think | BGR

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I'm paying $73/month for cable internet because of the lack of competition. This is the same cable internet I got for $10/month fifteen years ago. Actually, it's not as good now; it was lightning fast back then. The price increase since 2000 has been worse than the price increase for health insurance, for me anyway.

Anyway, my point is that if they had a new regulation saying that they had to face competition for high speed internet, instead of just for the set top boxes, I'd be very pleased.
Time Warner is fairly cheap here in Austin, mainly because Google Fiber Gigabit came to town. Unfortunately Google it won't be available where we live until probably after we retire and move out. But at least my 50mbps internet is only $35/mo.
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Old 02-19-2016, 11:05 AM   #4
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I have 50MB internet + TV from Time Warner. Originally they charged $90 for Internet + tv + phone. After incessant increases, they now charge $150 for internet + TV only, no phone, assuming I buy a modem (used to be included). Enough is enough, so I reduced internet speed to "basic" ($15/mo), and next I'm gonna drop the tv and go OTA. I might do satellite for ~$50/mo. I don't stream TV/movies or games, and found that dropping to 2MB download is actually fine for surfing. Cuique suum.
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Old 02-19-2016, 11:27 AM   #5
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Interesting but I'm still trying to figure out what this means.

For example - I have used Tivo, with a cable card, for years. I do NOT rent my cable box. (I also own my own broadband modem rather than pay a rental fee.).

How will these boxes get the conditional access? Will cable cards still be the way? Conditional access is the security that allows a cable operator to give neighbor A showtime (and charge for it) and neighbor B the sports package (and charge for it) and cheapskate neighbor 3 the basic package (and charge less for it.). This has to be done on a household basis, or even settop basis. Digital rights management/encryption is key here... because the content providers insist on it.

And - there are 2 major players in the conditional access field - the formerly General Instrument/Motorola - now ARRIS group (disclosure, my former employer) and the formerly Scientific Atlanta, now Cisco group. The conditional access schemes are not compatible. Cable operators have infrastructure costs associated with their chosen conditional access provider... (access controllers, billing systems, provisioning systems, etc.)

There already was the opportunity for 3rd party settops - with cable cards. (Tivo is fully compliant on both Cisco and ARRIS headends.) What has changed?

Or is this a bigger paradigm shift - all content going over the broadband internet access... with 3rd parties having access to ESPN/HGTV/etc to bundle as they wish.

Picking an internet plan with a big enough pipe (speed and bandwidth) will become more important. Cable operators still rule in that arena... so they'll still be profitable.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
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Old 02-19-2016, 11:33 AM   #6
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Set top box.
In the age of flat screen TVs, I wonder how many people still have the box on top of their "set."

But I guess we'll have the phrase "set top box" with us for a while yet. After all, my phone still has a "dial tone" despite not having an actual dial for the last 30 years.
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Old 02-19-2016, 11:41 AM   #7
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LOL Braumeister.

Reading the pdf linked in the article it looks like a mandate to do what they did with modems - allow consumers to purchase their own. That's good for the Cisco, ARRIS, Pace, etc's (manufacturers of settops). At least in the near term... but it will reduce the margins and eventually put them out of business. (Cable modems' margins shrunk to near zero when they became a retail item.)


3rd parties could get into it. There's a joint venture between Time Warner and Comcast for RDK software. But it hasn't fully settled out as "the" solution all cable operators will use. (Although Comcast is huge and pushing it.)
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Old 02-19-2016, 01:08 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by braumeister View Post
Set top box.
In the age of flat screen TVs, I wonder how many people still have the box on top of their "set."

But I guess we'll have the phrase "set top box" with us for a while yet. After all, my phone still has a "dial tone" despite not having an actual dial for the last 30 years.
Yes, the STB is obsolete, in name, also in design and functionality. It bring memories of the giant plastic telephone Ma Bell rented to us when we had no choice.

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Interesting but I'm still trying to figure out what this means.

For example - I have used Tivo, with a cable card, for years. I do NOT rent my cable box. (I also own my own broadband modem rather than pay a rental fee.).

How will these boxes get the conditional access? Will cable cards still be the way? Conditional access is the security that allows a cable operator to give neighbor A showtime (and charge for it) and neighbor B the sports package (and charge for it) and cheapskate neighbor 3 the basic package (and charge less for it.). This has to be done on a household basis, or even settop basis. Digital rights management/encryption is key here... because the content providers insist on it.

And - there are 2 major players in the conditional access field - the formerly General Instrument/Motorola - now ARRIS group (disclosure, my former employer) and the formerly Scientific Atlanta, now Cisco group. The conditional access schemes are not compatible. Cable operators have infrastructure costs associated with their chosen conditional access provider... (access controllers, billing systems, provisioning systems, etc.)

There already was the opportunity for 3rd party settops - with cable cards. (Tivo is fully compliant on both Cisco and ARRIS headends.) What has changed?

Or is this a bigger paradigm shift - all content going over the broadband internet access... with 3rd parties having access to ESPN/HGTV/etc to bundle as they wish.

Picking an internet plan with a big enough pipe (speed and bandwidth) will become more important. Cable operators still rule in that arena... so they'll still be profitable.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
That's a lot of questions.

When cablecard was introduced, a STB was not always needed, Comcast only encrypted premium channels, digital signals were not the norm, and HD was not a core offering. Now (at least with Comcast) all the signals are encrypted, the signal is digital, a STB of their choice is required for each cable outlet. When this was first introduced the digital box was free, now the same unit is subject to a monthly fee. No doubt this is like the cinema concession stand, a source of high margin revenue that is beyond the reach of the content providers.

The biggest difference between a user provided interface, such as the cablecard, and the cableco provided STB, is the latter is designed for two way communication, especially pay per view services. The programming feature is also interactive, which allows the cableco to track your viewing choices. The design favors the cableco, not the user. Some competition here should favor the user. At the very least some aesthetic improvements. Some user functionality would also be nice. Why not one box for all the content into my tv?
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Old 02-19-2016, 03:13 PM   #9
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The biggest difference between a user provided interface, such as the cablecard, and the cableco provided STB, is the latter is designed for two way communication, especially pay per view services. The programming feature is also interactive, which allows the cableco to track your viewing choices. The design favors the cableco, not the user. Some competition here should favor the user. At the very least some aesthetic improvements. Some user functionality would also be nice. Why not one box for all the content into my tv?
Cable cards can be two way... But it requires the cable operator to actually configure their headend to use that feature of the cable card. My operator (time warner) is pretty limited on their PPV /cable card stuff I think (but haven't checked, because I'm too cheap). I know Comcast and Tivo w/ cablecard allow on demand and PPV with their x-finity app. Heck, time warner you have to get past the first layer of tech support to cable card specialists in order to activate/pair the cable card... And the first layer of tech support doesn't seem to know this and refuses to transfer you. But... my point is... cable cards CAN be two way if the operator chooses to use them that way.


As for one box for all the content... That's why I have tivo with a cable card. It has an interface for netflix, and interface for Amazon Prime (and regular PPV amazon content), HULU, VUDU, etc... One stop.

As someone who worked on settop boxes I could not agree with your more on the craptastic user interfaces. Those were not provided by us, typically done by 3rd parties or in house by the operator (TWC, Comcast, etc). I worked on the code that interfaced with those apps and the underlying hardware. I hate the cable settop box interfaces so much that I pay for Tivo - which has a pretty good interface.

If the plan is for new 3rd party settops to use the cable card interface... We already have that - and lots of companies have tried with limited success (only Tivo was long term successful in working with both major MSOs) If it's another solution - some standard like RDK (which is being championed by Comcast)... again, it already exists... but this might force operators to allow purchased boxes (other than tivo) to be added... similar to the cable modem model.
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Old 02-20-2016, 05:00 AM   #10
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The new regulation is still in the comment stage and could be modified...
And that's the first half of the critical part of this: The service providers will do their best to serve the best interests of their shareholders by opposing any changes.

The second half is that even if any new rules are adopted, implementation will be dragged out, enforcement of the rule will be impotent, and most likely all it will accomplish in the end is the redirection of innovation away from better technology and service and toward better ways of evading the intention of the regulations.

Folks who have been watching this space for the twenty years since 104-104 was adopted will recall what a panacea CableCARD was supposed to be, and what a panacea AllVid was supposed to be. Keep your cynicism well-sharpened; you'll need it.

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By the time they get around to it, I suspect that almost nobody will be using cable TV service other than commercial establishments. Seems like nearly everybody is dropping cable TV and going to Netflix.
That'll subside a bit when early adopter pricing subsides. We're already seeing some changes, with the Netflix price increase last October, the pulling of BBC properties from Netflix in anticipation of launching their own service (with its own fees, of course), and indications that some current-season series streaming on Hulu will be ending. Eventually, pricing will catch back up with value, and Average Joes, no longer driven by maniacal bargain hunting, will go back to making decisions based on which distribution channel they personally prefer from a service and convenience standpoint.

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Or, like me just OTA.
While some "broadcast-only" metrics seem to indicate that OTA is getting more popular, those metrics don't differentiate between OTA only and OTA + streaming. So they're not reporting "broadcast-only" at all. Most of what is reporting as OTA growth is coming from households that also have broadband according to the Nielsen Cross Platform Report, June 2014. Presumably those doing such surveys will be asking better questions in the future to get a firmer grasp on the difference between folks who are just OTA and those who are OTA + streaming.

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Anyway, my point is that if they had a new regulation saying that they had to face competition for high speed internet, instead of just for the set top boxes, I'd be very pleased.
It is interesting, especially give how much erroneous bloviating there is about cable television "monopolies" that there is so little outrage about markets that are much closer to being monopolies, such as for broadband internet service.

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Interesting but I'm still trying to figure out what this means. For example - I have used Tivo, with a cable card, for years. I do NOT rent my cable box. (I also own my own broadband modem rather than pay a rental fee.). How will these boxes get the conditional access? Will cable cards still be the way? Conditional access is the security that allows a cable operator to give neighbor A showtime (and charge for it) and neighbor B the sports package (and charge for it) and cheapskate neighbor 3 the basic package (and charge less for it.). This has to be done on a household basis, or even settop basis. Digital rights management/encryption is key here... because the content providers insist on it.
I recently replaced my TiVo S3 with a TiVo Roamio Plus, primarily because of the conversion from MPEG2 to MPEG4 for cable networks. One of the side benefits is that I can peruse and capitalize on Comcast's On Demand service directly through my TiVo now. It's all done via software. Implementation of this decision is, of course, still up for discussion, and so that's partly why I am making the point that folks shouldn't have that much optimism based on this news report. I suspect that one implementation suggestion will be to establish general parameters for software-based conditional access.

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When cablecard was introduced, a STB was not always needed, Comcast only encrypted premium channels, digital signals were not the norm, and HD was not a core offering. Now (at least with Comcast) all the signals are encrypted...
A change that was, incidentally, due to the determination that there is effective competition for subscription video entertainment services in every jurisdiction in the United States.

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Some competition here [regarding STBs] should favor the user.
That's not clear. So few people rely on their televisions for news now that there are many who object to the very notion that government should have any role in getting in the way of business earning whatever the market will bear.

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but this might force operators to allow purchased boxes (other than tivo) to be added... similar to the cable modem model.
But don't think that means that there will be any. It is possible that everyone is grossly overestimating the value of this market. We're talking about the American consumer, who is, by nature, a maniacal bargain hunter, and who therefore can drive any consumer market down in the ground so badly that there isn't any money to be made. That, in turn, disincentivises quality suppliers from staying in the market. I doubt TiVo will stop making boxes, but I think it is as likely as not that opening up the market for STBs could have the effect of shrinking the market (at least for quality devices) rather than enlarging the market. The big winners, therefore, from STB competition may not be average consumers, but rather aficionados, folks who will use open architectures to build their own from scratch as a hobby. It isn't unusual for seemingly consumer-focused efforts in this space to end up only benefiting hobbyists.
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Old 02-21-2016, 09:36 AM   #11
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...

It is interesting, especially give how much erroneous bloviating there is about cable television "monopolies" that there is so little outrage about markets that are much closer to being monopolies, such as for broadband internet service. ....
Ummm, are you talking about broadband internet service on Planet Earth?

I hear a LOT of complaints about the internet providers. And a quick search with terms " consumer satisfaction internet service " came up with what I expected - one typical report:

Satisfaction with cable and internet service providers falls to seven-year low according to ACSI - Business Insider

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Americans' satisfaction with their cable TV and internet service providers has plummeted to a seven-year low.

That's according to the latest data released on Tuesday by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI,) which said of the 43 categories it surveys more than 70,000 consumers on — including airlines, energy utilities, and health care — TV and internet companies came rock bottom in terms of satisfaction.
What the heck are you talking about?

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Old 02-22-2016, 04:35 AM   #12
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Ummm, are you talking about broadband internet service on Planet Earth?
Yes.

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I hear a LOT of complaints about the internet providers.
I think you need to go back and read the message you replied to again.
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It is interesting, especially give how much erroneous bloviating there is about cable television "monopolies" that there is so little outrage about markets that are much closer to being monopolies, such as for broadband internet service.
The point I made was that complaints about the nature of the market were utterly disproportionate - a ridiculously excessive amount of complaints about how the non-monopoly is a monopoly, with regard to subscription video entertainment, and a comparatively paltry amount of complaints about broadband internet providers being a monopoly, when that is so much closer to the truth. It was a comparison - two things considered together, highlighting their differences, both actual differences and differences with regard to the complaints, both focused on that same aspect, market competitiveness.

I hope that helps.
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Old 02-22-2016, 07:13 AM   #13
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We have Verizon Fios Internet and TV service. It has been very consistent for many years in terms of its stellar performance in our market area. I certainly can't say the same for other sectors like airlines and healthcare.
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Old 02-22-2016, 08:29 AM   #14
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Yes.

I think you need to go back and read the message you replied to again.The point I made was that complaints about the nature of the market were utterly disproportionate - a ridiculously excessive amount of complaints about how the non-monopoly is a monopoly, with regard to subscription video entertainment, and a comparatively paltry amount of complaints about broadband internet providers being a monopoly, when that is so much closer to the truth. It was a comparison - two things considered together, highlighting their differences, both actual differences and differences with regard to the complaints, both focused on that same aspect, market competitiveness.

I hope that helps.
Can you provide some data to back that up - that might help?

I don't think that the average consumer spends much time thinking about whether their service is provided by a monopoly/oligopoly - they think in terms of the results, and typically, lack of competition is correlated with poor service.

Are there surveys of the public's complaints of these industries being monopolies so that we can compare? If you can find them, please present them, and then we can talk. But I suspect the only surveys out there are results oriented.

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Old 02-22-2016, 08:33 AM   #15
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Can you provide some data to back that up - that might help?
I think you know well that very paradoxical disparity, and your tone confirms it. My experience tells me that that that tone you are projecting indicates that you don't like to see such things pointed out, and that the discussion will suffer, so let's let the matter drop now while things are friendly.
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Old 02-22-2016, 08:43 AM   #16
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I think you know well that very paradoxical disparity, and your tone confirms it. My experience tells me that that that tone you are projecting indicates that you don't like to see such things pointed out, and that the discussion will suffer, so let's let the matter drop now while things are friendly.


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Old 02-22-2016, 08:44 AM   #17
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Please play nice, folks!
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Old 02-22-2016, 08:45 AM   #18
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Precisely.
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Old 02-22-2016, 08:46 AM   #19
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Back on topic. I spoke to an extended family member that works in the industry for one of the large cable operators. He also didn't know what it meant and agreed with my analysis that cable card already provided what was written up. He also heard that Tivo and Google were pushing this - and that it was a back door play to get the cable content (channels) over the top (via internet) rather than having to bundle them through the cable operators. Google Fiber has been somewhat hampered in getting some of the cable channels.
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Old 02-22-2016, 08:54 AM   #20
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I agree... it's not substantially different from CableCARD. But it sure makes people think that the FCC is working for them.
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