Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 21, 2014

Fight Over Set-Top Box ‘Integration Ban’ Continues

Lawmakers may be getting ready to leave Washington until September, but that doesn’t mean the lobbying and the fight between TiVo and the cable industry over the so-called integration ban on cable set-top boxes has died down.

Both TiVo and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association have sent letters to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee recently making their case about whether or not to eliminate the ban on cable companies’ integrating decryption technology into their set-top boxes (for more on the integration ban, check out Technocrat’s Q&A with CQ Roll Call reporter Rob Margetta).

The panel is expected to consider a satellite television reauthorization bill in September. It would be the last of four committees with jurisdiction to act. A House-passed bill would eliminate the integration ban.

TiVo wants to protect the integration ban, and the company’s president and CEO Thomas Rogers sent a letter to the top lawmakers on the Senate Commerce panel on July 22 saying that its recent arrangement with Comcast over CableCARDS shows that the current system is working and that legislative action isn’t needed:

We write to inform you that, as has been widely reported, TiVo has now entered into an agreement with Comcast in which Comcast has agreed to continue to provide and to support CableCARDS for retail devices and work with TiVo on a future two-way non-CableCARD security solution that will enable TiVo retail devices to access the full Comcast lineup of linear and video-on-demand programming, as platforms increasingly transition to IP technology.

“Our agreement with Comcast now clearly demonstrates that the proper incentives currently exist for the industry to work out the transition from CableCARD to a future solution without any need for federal legislation,” he writes, later adding that repealing the ban would take away an incentive for other cable companies to “solve this future IP challenge on a private basis, as TiVo has with Comcast.”

NCTA wants to eliminate the integration ban, and in a letter dated Thursday to chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and ranking Republican John Thune, R-S.D., the group’s president and CEO Michael Powell gave a rebuttal to the TiVo letter and called for action by the panel:

In its letter, TiVo not only repeats old arguments, but also newly asserts that a recent commercial arrangement between Comcast and TiVo to work on a new, non-CableCard retail set top solution somehow demonstrates a continuing need for the current ban against integrated security in leased boxes.

“We write today to refute this spurious claim and to again urge the committee to take sensible action that would eliminate the unnecessary costs forced on the large majority of cable consumers,” he wrote, adding that a repeal could be implemented “surgically.”

That letter spurred another rebuttal by TiVo general counsel Matt Zinn Thursday:  “Once again, NCTA twists the facts to suit its own narrative to continue to undermine the competitive retail environment.”

It looks like the issue will be waiting for the committee in September.

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