Peering into the future of DSTAC and the pay-TV set-top box

Pay-TV operators are being zinged by lawmakers, consumer groups and big technology companies about their proprietary set-tops. Operators, they say, are making a killing, leasing proprietary boxes that hold the only keys to their video systems.

"Decades ago we ended the practice of forcing customers to lease a black rotary dial phone from Ma Bell," said Chip Pickering, CEO of Comptel, a trade group representing Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) and others. "The archaic practice of forced leasing a set-top box from the cable company is a holdover from a bygone era."

Of course, as FierceCable's latest special report illustrates, the reality isn't so simple. Operators are spending much of their time deploying cloud-based systems that emphasize low-cost set-top devices. They're launching authenticated TV Everywhere services that leverage streaming devices from the same technology companies that are screaming for the set-top market to be opened up. Operators are also launching new services like Sling TV that use no set-top at all.

"We agree with Apple's [CEO] Tim Cook -- the future of TV is apps," said Neal Goldberg, general counsel for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA).

Almost a decade after CableCard, how did the industry arrive at this point? And what is the FCC's Downloadable Security Technical Advisory Committee (DSTAC) doing to push the issue forward? And how will the cable industry react?

For a deep-dive into this topic, check out this special report: DSTAC, CableCard, pay-TV apps and the future of the cable industry's $20B set-top business