June 12, 2007 | By Derek Slater

Cable Cos. Fighting Innovation in Next Gen Devices

A new generation of cable TV devices are on the way, but cable companies are working to ensure they can control innovation in novel features and limit your ability to use TV content.

Back in 1996, Congress directed the FCC to foster useful, competitive alternatives to cable providers' proprietary set-top boxes. That led to the creation of the CableCARD, which has helped open the digital cable set-top market to devices like TiVo Series 3 and Windows Media Center. Proprietary boxes still have a leg up on CableCARD devices because the latter can't access two-way services like Video-on-Demand or Switched Digital Video channels that cable operators plan to deploy, so a CableCARD successor is now in the works.

Having fought CableCARD devices nearly every step of the way, cable companies see this as an opportunity to lockdown competing devices, and they've proposed a spec to that end. Public Knowledge, EFF, and other public interest groups sent a letter to the FCC yesterday asking for a public comment period on an alternative proposal that would promote competition and innovation. Users shouldn't be stuck with the proprietary boxes and limited features pushed by cable companies.

We also asked the FCC to help protect your rights to make lawful use of digital cable content. Unfortunately, CableCARD devices are DRM-laden -- that's why you can't, for instance, use TiVo Series 3 to record a show and then move it to a portable device using TiVoToGo. Going forward with CableCARD's successor, the FCC should adopt rules that limit cable companies ability to force DRM onto users after legitimate reception of TV content.

Public Knowledge's John Bergmayer has an excellent post up explaining the issue in more detail.

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