Comcast promises to release self-service tool for CableCard activation

While regulators, cable operators and electronics companies are debating a replacement technology for CableCard, Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) says it hasn't given up its support for the security standard.

"Comcast ensures that customers who opt to use retail CableCard devices are properly supported by providing customers with CableCard self-installation kits," the MSO said in a recent FCC filing. "In addition, Comcast is working towards offering a self-service tool for CableCard activation, an option to direct-ship CableCards for self-installation, and a single support line for all CableCard activation, support and billing questions beginning early next year."

The announcement was part of Comcast' comments relating to proposals made by the FCC's Downloadable Security Advisory Committee (DSTAC). This committee has been charged by Congress to come up with a successor technology to CableCard, a technology developed in the 1990s to enable set-tops sold at retail to work in the pay-TV ecosystem.

Comcast's continuing support for CableCard is noteworthy the company specifically noted that CableCard has not really succeeded in creating a vibrant market for retail set-tops, as it was initially intended to do. Since the FCC made CableCard mandate, Comcast noted, only 617,000 CableCard devices have been sold at retail, compared to 53 million CableCard set-tops sold through pay-TV operators.

Indeed, Congress has ended the provision that requires operators to integrate CableCard into their own set-tops. Comcast said that operators have incurred $1 billion in "completely unnecessary" costs to include this capability in their hardware. 

Since CableCard hasn't been successful, the FCC's DSTAC has been charged with finding a replacement technology. Earlier this year the committee made two technology proposals aimed at replacing CableCard and spurring growth in the market for retail set-tops: one proposal is referred to as the apps-based approach and another is based on the AllVid standard. If adopted, one of these technologies could be used to enable retail set-tops to be used in the pay-TV eco-system.

Comcast -- along with the rest of the cable industry -- is vehemently opposed to the AllVid strategy, which would place an extra device, either in customers home or on the network, that would "decode" secure cable signals for authenticated retail devices.

As for the apps-based approach, Comcast said it's already supporting such an initiative with its TV Everywhere multi-screen apps. In short, Comcast -- like the lobbying or that represents it, the National Cable Telecommunications Association -- are recommending that the FCC and DSTAC do nothing at all.

For more:
- read this Comcast FCC filing

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NCTA: There is no need for FCC's DSTAC to produce a CableCard successor for set-tops