back to article Wait, wait – I got it this time, says FCC as it swings again at rip-off US TV cable boxes

US comms watchdog the FCC has published its revised plans to kill the multi-billion-dollar cable box rip-off. In a fact sheet [PDF], chair Tom Wheeler reiterates the same arguments he made back in January when he first proposed forcing cable companies to publish their data streams in an open format so competitors could offer …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    and save American consumers hundreds of dollars a piece

    I've just seen a pig do a loop the loop.

    The cable companies will just up the difference somewhere else on your bill. Or is Wheeler going to mandate prices too?

    1. Ole Juul

      loop the loop

      I'm hoping that consumers will see this and start to support future efforts to reign in the telcos.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: loop the loop

        Unfortunately the cable companies have been successful making it a partisan issue, so it is seen as a "democratic regulatory overreach" by the republicans. If Trump wins, this effort will sink like a stone as he'll be able to make an appointment to the FCC so it will go from 3-2 democrat that it has been since 2009 to 3-2 republican.

        The cable companies are basically using stalling tactics hoping that happens, and just generally delaying to push out any implementation if Clinton wins. They throw out an unworkable scheme for apps, that lets them choose winners and losers by only offering apps on platforms they want. The FCC has called their bluff by throwing out an unworkable proposal of their own, which would require the cable companies to support ANY platform that has sold more than 5 million units in the last three (I think?) years, which basically means Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Apple TV, Roku, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, plus maybe a few models of smart TVs and some other stuff I'm sure I'm forgetting. I think the FCC knows it is unworkable, but are hoping to get things back on track with the gateway if Clinton wins.

        1. Old Used Programmer Silver badge

          Re: loop the loop

          5 million units in the last 3 years? Depending out you count, that would include the Raspberry Pi, requiring the cables to accept an "app" running on Raspbian.

        2. Joe User

          Re: loop the loop

          DougS: The FCC has called their bluff by throwing out an unworkable proposal of their own, which would require the cable companies to support ANY platform that has sold more than 5 million units in the last three (I think?) years,

          And why is that an "unworkable proposal"? With a well-designed API on the cable companies' end, it shouldn't matter what device connects to them, as long as that device makes the proper API calls. It would be up to the device to handle the video stream that it receives and to format it properly for output.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: loop the loop

            It's unworkable because the media companies (this won't just be about cable but also satellite and fiber, and because of that could also have an effect on the local channel obligation, too) don't want to lose their captive market in that area. NO ONE wants to lose a captive market.

            1. Joe User

              Re: loop the loop

              Not so much "unworkable" as it is "unpopular" (with the cable companies).

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: loop the loop

            "And why is that an "unworkable proposal"? With a well-designed API on the cable companies' end ..."

            Who's going to get cable companies to well-design something? Hasn't happened yet ....

    2. Matt Bryant Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: AC

      "....just put up the difference....." I predict an increase in the price of rented modems.

  2. Steve Knox

    True

    Cable companies warned that the plan would allow third parties to introduce their own advertisements and could cause the leak of consumer data.

    They know it's true because that's how they make money.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: True

      Cable companies warned that the plan would allow third parties to introduce their own advertisements without bribing paying the cable companies for it and could cause the leak of consumer data.

      Once again scare tactics are the order of the day. In the meantime the halfarsed security measures of cable companies is probably much more of a problem for consumer data safety.

  3. Efros

    Popcorn anyone?

    This one is going to be worth sitting back and watching.

  4. Purple-Stater

    ...expose customer data

    That's a simple fix as there's no need for any customer data at all to be coming out of what needs to be little more than a recording device with the proper tuner.

    I'm don't quite follow why this isn't a plain and simple situation of a monopoly that needs to be broken?

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: ...expose customer data

      Like many issues, this one actually is not plain and simple, and in many locations not a monopoly either. Where I live, everyone has the option of either Comcast or CenturyLink, and a large and growing number not far away have the additional option of Google Fiber for cable TV. Nearly everyone also has good visibility of a number of OTA transmitting towers and could access broadcast material for the one time $20-30 cost of an antenna. Finally, anyone with broadband internet service from one of the above cable providers can access Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, or Acorn at fairly reasonable rates.

      1. JeffyPoooh
        Pint

        Re: ...expose customer data

        "...can access Netflix..."

        Netflix, at least in Canada, has a catalog which reflects its origin as a video rental shop. TV series and movies on demand, which is nice. But not live TV channels.

        Is anyone offering alternative Cable TV virtual-equivalent (500+ live TV channels) over the 'net?

        Those Kodi boxes come close, but are still amateur hour. Highly fractured, slow, dodgy.

        I don't quite understand why this isn't 'the biggest thing ever' at this point.

        The Bell Fibe FTTH service recently "installed" (connected) a PVR at our house. It plugs in with an Ethernet cord. We had to take the TV service & PVR because our monthly price went DOWN by accepting TV service, Internet speed went UP (200 -> 300 Mbps), and the price is locked for two years. The PVR presently sits in our basement, not even connected to a TV.

        Obviously anyone anywhere could offer a virtual Cable TV service over the 'net.

        There's no reason it has to be a monopoly over the 'net.

        Starting point would be for Netflix to start offering one or more Live TV News channels.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: ...expose customer data

          "There's no reason it has to be a monopoly over the 'net.

          Starting point would be for Netflix to start offering one or more Live TV News channels."

          Yes there is. Ironclad exclusivity contracts. Plus the whole television media landscape is all a mess of webs of interconnected conglomerates. There are few true independents out there, and many of those have tie-ins.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: ...expose customer data

            No one can offer internet equivalent cable tv streaming because the infrastructure cannot handle it. There are methods of doing it over the internet, but I do not think the hardware at the phone exchanges etc is there for multicast.

            For on demand, you don't hit the same kind of peak requirements as often, though even then local congestion can be enormous. Cable does not have this problem, it does not suffer congestion if more people watch (for example everyone watching the Superbowl). :)

            1. kain preacher

              Re: ...expose customer data

              Blink, what do you think U verse is ? It's TV and internet over standard cat3 copper.

          2. Donn Bly

            Re: ...expose customer data

            The problem is that people don't WANT "live" TV programming outside of sporting events. They want to watch their content on their own schedule.

        2. fishman

          Re: ...expose customer data

          "Is anyone offering alternative Cable TV virtual-equivalent (500+ live TV channels) over the 'net?"

          It's not 500 channels, but we have Playstation Vue. ESPN, Fox Sports, NBCSN, Discovery channels, Disney channels, NBC channels, SyFy, FX, and a bunch of other ones. It works with Amazon Fire TV and Roku - you don't need a Playstation.

          I don't need 500 channels, and it provides me with 95% of the channels I'd ever care to watch.

    2. Sebastian A

      Re: ...expose customer data

      Cable companies are just hoping there won't be anyone technical enough to see through the techno-blather. They just want them to see "Privacy implications" and go "Whoa okay sorry we asked, as you were.".

  5. energystar
    Linux

    ...At some [other] Country...

    It will save around US $30/year-box only. Asking just for data out of consumer sense, around there. Two years before [they] weren't even offered the option. Tariffs still rigged by cartelization.

  6. Bakana

    We want it Simple.

    Most Consumers just want a Box that does most of the same things the box we Rent does (Except for the tendency to Crash a lot) but we get to Own the box instead of paying monthly fees forever.

    So far, the only alternative anyone has offered is TIVO which has it's own Monthly Fee for whatever "Service" TIVO supposedly provides.

    The Cable companies and TV industry in general seem to believe that we are not "Consumers" of their offering but something more like Property. Cash Cows whom they can "milk" until we die, and maybe thereafter as soon as they find some "Service" they can offer to run a wire into our caskets.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: We want it Simple.

      There's also the satellite and fiber providers who seem to have their own standards. Suppose the FCC mandates one standard to rule ALL of them: cable, satellite, AND fiber so that it shouldn't matter WHERE you go or WHOM you subscribe. Just stick the cable in your box and you're good to go. In fact, why not mandate the standard so that it's easy to just stick a module into the back of your TV (not built-in as that allows Planned Obsolescence) and be on your way?

      PS. I mean this just for basic tuning. Recording and so on, OK let's keep that in a separate box.

      1. JeffyPoooh
        Pint

        Re: We want it Simple.

        "...one standard to rule ALL of them: cable, satellite, AND fiber..."

        Cable and Satellite share the same 75-ohm F connector. They also (could) cover the same frequency range (typically up to 2.2 GHz). Satellite receivers emit voltages and tones, while Cable boxes report back purchases. Conceptually one could build a combined Cable TV and Satellite set top box, but in the real world it remains impractical. The authorization cards are now generally built-in, because it seems to help with security. It would require all providers (Cable & Sat) to adopt a common standard going forward.

        Fiber is typically converted to Ethernet, or the same thing carried on coax. Totally different.

        Given that STBs cost under $50 (the actual hidden cost of the box), your proposal would only increase costs.

        Conceptually, one can imagine your proposal being feasible. But in reality it's in the same category as Flying Cars.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: We want it Simple.

          "Conceptually one could build a combined Cable TV and Satellite set top box" We have TVs that do that here. What planet are you on where this is still only in the conceptual stage?

          Mine is the one with the remote to the Sony/Panasonic/Samsung that does Satellite, Antenna broadcast and internet on demand all at the same time (no cable on those, as it is propriety, but could be piped in with the right setup and a lot of money... we did do those installs for some, one cupboard with the lot, and pipe it through the house in HD).

      2. JeffyPoooh
        Pint

        Re: We want it Simple.

        "...just stick a module into the back of your TV..."

        Congratulations, you've just (re-) invented the CableCARD.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CableCARD

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: We want it Simple.

          But the CableCARD was under the media company's control. I'm looking for something under the GOVERNMENT'S control, with a mandated carry requirement and fines for noncompliance, much as the local channel requirement works. Given a choice between the devil of private enterprise and the demon of the government, I'd rather have the government. At least there I'm less likely to be left with a monopolistic Hobson's Choice.

          Frankly, I wonder why no one hasn't filed a charge of cartel behavior yet, which IS in the anti-competition books...

      3. Donn Bly

        Re: We want it Simple.

        In fact, why not mandate the standard so that it's easy to just stick a module into the back of your TV (not built-in as that allows Planned Obsolescence) and be on your way?

        Well actually, if you think about it, that is the way it is now. The "module" is the proprietary cable box, and the interface is (if you are lucky) HDMI. Otherwise, component and composite are alternative interfaces.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: We want it Simple.

          "Well actually, if you think about it, that is the way it is now. The "module" is the proprietary cable box, and the interface is (if you are lucky) HDMI. Otherwise, component and composite are alternative interfaces."

          And the "proprietary" is the key word there. If the boxes could be standardized instead, that would break the stranglehold. Of course, the cablecos don't want their cash cow sacrificed, so they're fighting tooth and nail.

    2. JeffyPoooh
      Pint

      Re: "...whatever 'Service' TIVO supposedly provides."

      "...TIVO....Monthly Fee for whatever "Service" TIVO supposedly provides."

      Exactly.

      TiVo's service is primarily the 'Keep Alive' flag. Stop paying their bill, and "your" (sic) precious (sic) TiVo PVR stops working. That threat of the 'Kill Bit' is their primary service offering.

      TiVo also provides the necessary TV guide information data, something worth about $0.25 per month. Some hackers have found alternative open and free sources of this same data and taken TiVo out of the picture while continuing to use the TiVo hardware. They need to hack with their router settings to make it work. Still at risk from the menacing TiVo Kill Bit.

      The TiVo business model is one of the strangest things in the known Universe. The only thing stranger are the TiVo clients. One wouldn't want to be exposed to their 'thinking'.

  7. KA1AXY

    cut the cord

    The only reason to have cable TV at all is live sports. Otherwise, the internet provides far better, watch-anytime, alternatives.

    Simply by canceling my cable, I halved my bill from Comcast. My phone is through ooma at $15/mo. $70/mo for 35/15 internet is still too much, but it's half what I was paying..

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: cut the cord

      "The only reason to have cable TV at all is live sports. Otherwise, the internet provides far better, watch-anytime, alternatives."

      Not if you want to record them and be able to watch them unplugged. Internet stream providers are wise and protect the streams up the wazoo, including many times using Protected Media Path which tends to block screen scrapers and HDMI recorders by invoking HDCP. At least the cable box I use doesn't protect the Component path, meaning I can still record HDTV off of it with a second box (and I used it extensively during the Olympics), all of which comes out unprotected meaning (after a little transcoding), I can watch the end results anytime on any device capable of handling AVC, AAC, and Matroska (thankfully, it's a large and growing list) without any need for a "by your leave" from the upstream provider: see it once, see it for a long time to come, even if the source disappears.

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

        Re: cut the cord

        ^ Fair point.

        Perhaps I've just reached my tolerance limit on broadcast TV. Movies chopped up until barely recognizable (wouldn't want to offend the kiddies with naughty words or a flash of boob), inane commercials (and way, way too many of them), and, of course, a $70/mo fee for the privilege.

        // old, trying not to be grumpy

        // Comcast makes it hard...

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: cut the cord

          Perhaps, but then I tend to stick to the specialty channels. Plenty of nature channels and so on. Some things are worth the price if it gives you the chance to KEEP a show you like.

  8. Tom Paine
    Thumb Up

    Lobby Lud

    Lovely little reference in the sub head. Well played.

  9. martinusher Silver badge

    Cable TV -- and the box -- have had their day

    We got stuck with one of those clunky old cable boxes, is just a piece of obsolete junk. You have to pay extra for everything, include "high definition". Its not worth plugging in (and it uses a ton of power if you do)(and if you turn it off it takes all day to reboot). Its easily replaced, though -- a TiVo accepts a cable card and it will run applications. Its what the FCC is proposing, its not a big deal despite the squeals from the cable companies.

    Even the TiVo's now redundant, though. Television has been replaced by streaming -- if you have cable or a fiber then you've got decent Internet so you just don't need cable TV unless you're a sports fanatic and you just have to watch those games. For us the Roku does just fine -- its cheap to buy, you own it and it works.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Cable TV -- and the box -- have had their day

      But you can't RECORD with it. Every time you want to watch it again, you have to shell out the data usage, and not everyone can afford a generous data cap.

  10. Rasslin ' in the mud
    Alert

    We're from the government.

    We're here to help.

    Scares me and I'm fearless!

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: We're from the government.

      Oh? Would you rather it be "The Reap an Rape Your Rear End Multinational Company Who's Cornered the Market" saying they're here to help you?

      There ARE things scarier than the government.

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