NCTA says toodles to Integration Ban, 'an unnecessary tech mandate from the late 1990s'

With the FCC set to finally lift on Friday the "Integration Ban" that required cable companies to include CableCard devices in their set-tops, the National Cable Telecommunications Association (NCTA) posted a statement on its website leaving little ambiguity about how it feels about regulation.

"The Integration Ban was an unnecessary technology mandate from the late 1990s that cost billions of dollars with no real consumer benefit," the NCTA said in the post. "We'd like to take a moment to recognize how the repeal of this ban helps cable customers by lowering costs of equipment, saving energy, and clearing the way for better TV innovation."

As of the NCTA's count in early November, only around 618,000 CableCards have been issued by MSOs so far to enable customers with set-tops purchased at retail to use them with their cable subscription. Around 54 million boxes leased by cable companies have been deployed with integrated CableCard wherewithal. The cable industry has always questioned why its members had to put this wherewithal into their own set-tops.

"As a result of the Integration Ban, cable's set-top boxes were more expensive and used more energy than they would have had they been allowed to integrate security directly into the device," the NCTA said.

The ban is being lifted Friday as part of last year's passage of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2014, also known as STELAR.

As the NCTA has stridently attempted to message in previous blog postings, the CableCard itself hasn't been banished into extinction. STELAR only ended the mandate that MSOs integrate the technology into their set-tops.

CableCard was originally established to gestate a market for third-party set-tops that could work in the pay-TV ecosystem. And these third-party sellers, most notably TiVo, will still sell devices that can be authenticated with an MSO-provided CableCard to work with a customer's cable subscription. 

Of course, TiVo and many cable consumers have long questioned the cable industry's support for CableCard. Customers with retail-sold set-tops, for example, have complained that operators like Comcast  (NASDAQ: CMCSA) haven't made CableCards for these devices readily available. 

For its part, Comcast recently pledged its support for the technology, even publishing a self-service tool for CableCard activation.

"In the end, we want customers to access their favorite content however they want," the NCTA said. "And if that means supporting CableCards to decrypt video signals in retail devices, then that's exactly what we'll do. But forcing cable operators to use CableCardss in leased devices benefited no one, least of all the consumers this rule arguably served."

The end of the Integration Ban comes as the FCC -- as also mandated by STELAR -- has formed a committee to come up with a new technology to replace CableCard. 

For more:
- read this NCTA blog post

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