Seamlessly integrated video technology? Not on the FCC’s watch

Congressman Bob Latta (R-OH) delivered the keynote address at the The Free State Foundation's seminar entitled “A New FCC or the Same Old, Same Old?” where through this comments on  the outlook for reform in regulation of the telecommunications industry, he called attention to a misguided regulation introduced by the FCC known as the integration ban. To resolve the FCC's missteps, Rep. Latta along with Rep. Greene(R-TX) introduced HR 3196 to end the integration ban.

Rep. Latta noted that the FCC often imposes technical standards that should instead be determined by the market.  Even though the 1996 Communications Act didn’t mandate an integration ban, the FCC overstepped their boundaries and created one anyway. 

The integration ban requires that video content functions, delivery of channels with video content, and security functions, encryption that allows content to be descrambled if a customer is in good standing, cannot be integrated seamlessly into a set top box.  The descrambling aspect must come from a separate device.   

The FCC rule was an attempt to create a market for set-top boxes.  Apparently, even though customers hadn't indicated a demand for set-top boxes outside of the ones the can conveniently be leased from their multi-channel video programing distributor (MVPD), the FCC thought it was a good idea to meddle.  As a result, the FCC has required your cable set-top box be able to hold a CableCARD, despite the fact that set-top boxes are fully cable of completing both channel delivery and encryption without a separate component. 

Proponents of the integration ban claim that CableCARDs won’t work in third-party devices, like TiVo, unless cable companies are required to use them in set-top boxes, but even if the ban was lifted customers who wanted to get CableCARDs could do so. The ban has cost consumers with leased set top boxes over $1 billion in extra costs, and CableCARDs collectively use 500 million kilowatt hours of energy each year.

The 600,000 CableCARDs in third-party devices pale in comparison to the more 40 million that exist in set-top boxes. In today’s world cable no longer dominates the video market. Consumers have an unprecedented number of choices in this field. Congressman Latta is wise to realize that it’s long past time to break the shackles of the integration ban and set cable companies and consumers free from an unnecessary and expensive regulation.