Comcast Treats M-Card as Two CableCARDs, Bills Accordingly

This one really has me aggravated as a consumer advocate. So, Comcast decided that the FCC regulations only require them to give one CableCARD per household for free. And, thus, they tacked on a $1.79/month fee for the second CableCARD. This is actually sneaky tactic to bump up the cost of TiVo HD service to equal the cost of Comcast’s DVR service.

But, CableLabs had a bright idea… M-Card! Or, Multi-Stream CableCARD. The idea is to authenticate two tuners in a single CableCARD, thus removing the financial burden on the cable operator of two CableCARDs.

And yes, I got the first M-Card in my market, inside of my TiVo HD.

So, I was shocked to open my bill this month, and find I was getting charged for two CableCARDs! The charge is listed as “DVR Own/dual” for, you guessed it, $1.79.

Calling Comcast is always a fun experience. The representatives I spoke to had never heard of an M-Card. From what I was able to piece together with her talking to her supervisor, was that Comcast considers the M-Card as suppling functionality to two tuners, and thus, is two CableCARDs in one device. This, of course, is crazy… the same hardware of one CableCARD is supplying two tuners, there is no (material) added cost for the M-Card versus a CableCARD (and certainly not $21.48 per year).

After putting all this together, and remininding Comcast of FCC policy that, at a bare minimum requires a single free CableCARD per household… they manually removed the charge from my account.

My advice: If you have an M-Card, check your bill. If you don’t have an M-Card, request one from Comcast and save yourself $21.48 per year… they’re already getting enough of your hard earned money.

20 Responses

  1. Christopher Price
    Christopher Price May 30, 2008 at 2:58 pm |
  2. MegaZone
    MegaZone May 31, 2008 at 3:42 am |

    Are you sure FCC policy requires a free CableCARD? I haven’t heard that one before, and I know other cable MSOs charge for *all* cards, without giving one free. Comcast is actually kind of unique in giving one free, and has some of the lowest prices on additional cards. Some MSOs charge $5 per card.

  3. Christopher Price
    Christopher Price May 31, 2008 at 7:15 pm |

    I had a great reply all ready to go, and WebKit crashed on me.

    So, to be brief, it’s my position that this is the FCC policy, but the FCC refuses to clarify. I think they’re just happy the cable operators are going to open cable. But, I doubt Comcast wouldn’t charge $5 if they thought they could get away with it… they’d much rather you take their “free” digital receiver, or pay $5 for their HDTV tuner.

    Comcast could be the tipping point MSO, where if they charged it, the FCCs would crack down on the MSOs. Hard to say the FCC’s logic in being nebulous… but it’s certainly not the only area where they chose to be so.

  4. mike
    mike June 9, 2008 at 7:43 pm |

    Can someone link me to something where the FCC says Comcast has to give me one free cablecard? They’re currently charging me the $1.79 a month.

  5. Rob
    Rob June 9, 2008 at 10:39 pm |

    1. Can the M-card be used on a Series 3 Tivo despite the fact it has two cable card slots?

    2, What is the status of two-way cable cards that support On Demand for TIVO owners?

    Many thanks- Rob

  6. Robb
    Robb June 9, 2008 at 10:42 pm |

    Ditto, I can’t seem to find the right link for the mandate

  7. Bill
    Bill June 10, 2008 at 5:22 am |

    When looking into getting a TiVo, I called Time Warner in NYC to inquire about Cable Cards. The rep on the phone told me they charge $1.75 (or somethign like that) per month for the first cable card and $4.95 per month for the second one. (!?!?!?)

  8. Bill
    Bill June 10, 2008 at 5:26 am |

    Follow-up to my last post above…I forgot the best part. I asked the rep about M-Cards.. She said sometimes the tech has them sometimes they don’t. There’s no way to require them on the order. Take your chances. AND…if you get an M-Card, the cost is $1.75 per month…if you get two regular cards…$1.75 + $4.95 per month. Again…(?!?!?!?!)

  9. Bill
    Bill June 10, 2008 at 5:26 am |

    Rob Said…
    1. Can the M-card be used on a Series 3 Tivo despite the fact it has two cable card slots?
    2, What is the status of two-way cable cards that support On Demand for TIVO owners?

    1. Yes it can.
    2. TiVo says they’re “working on it” but has no more info.

  10. Christopher Price
    Christopher Price June 10, 2008 at 5:37 am |

    Actually, M-Cards can only be used on the TiVo HD. They cannot be used on the original, Series 3 TiVo. TiVo blames this limitation on Broadcom, as the original Series 3 units have an older chipset. Broadcom hasn’t updated that chipset, despite telling TiVo that they would.

    As to On Demand… sorry, but it just can’t work with the current TiVo generation. This is because On Demand will require tru2way technology, which is the sucessor to CableCARD. And yes, that means that you will have to buy a completely new TiVo just to use On Demand.

    Now, you might be crying out that I’m wrong, and that you heard there’s some USB widget on the way to enable On Demand. Sorry, but that isn’t the case.

    The USB adapter that is in development will enable CableCARD units (like TiVo HD) to access SDV (switched digital video) channels. Those are channels that use a new compression method, which will enable more HD channels to appear in the future.

    If you’re still confused on all this, I would recommend researching tru2way technology online.

  11. Christopher Price
    Christopher Price June 10, 2008 at 5:41 am |

    And now, following up on earlier posts in regard to the FCC mandate.

    What I said in my last comment in regards to FCC policy stands. It is my opinion that you are entitled, based on FCC regulation, to a free CableCARD (or M-Card). The FCC refuses to clarify.

    Why? Because the Open Cable initiative by the FCC could easily be circumvented by cable operators otherwise. They could just charge $99/month for a single CableCARD, ensuring that nobody would request one.

    Now, you might argue that Cable Operators have a legitimate interest in charging a small fee for the CableCARD. I disagree (and the FCC sure didn’t say so), since Cable Operators have to give digital tuners out for free, with the DTV transition. And, the CO’s certainly can’t argue that a CableCARD is more expensive than an entire digital cable tuner.

  12. Jennifer Pamachena
    Jennifer Pamachena June 21, 2008 at 9:19 am |

    I understand that it is your opinion that the FCC regulations say this…but could you please direct me to the regulation that you are referring to specifically so that I, too, can read it and form my own opinion?

  13. Christopher Price
    Christopher Price June 21, 2008 at 11:51 pm |

    Just check their open cable rulings that mandated internal CableCARD support inside of all digital tuners… a couple of web searches should turn that up easily.

    Unfortunately the FCC site itself is not structured very well, I can’t navigate it properly myself… and that should say enough on its own. The “updates” page on the front is really only meant for passing consumer interest.

    What would really be nice is if the FCC didn’t have a PR department that was even more closed than the MSOs themselves. After all, I’m paying a lot more in taxes to support the federal government, than I am my MSO. I’d love to give you a clear answer straight from them on this.

    However, if they’re mandating that you be given a digital cable tuner with CableCARD inside of it for no charge, I don’t think the MSO has grounds to then charge for the CableCARD itself. Now, if you already have a digital tuner from your MSO, I could see them arguing that that is the first CableCARD, and charging a nominal fee for subsequent CableCARDs. I still think it’s bogus to impose such a fee, but legally that might be permissible.

  14. Brian
    Brian August 1, 2008 at 10:44 am |

    Do I need to subscribe to digital service to qualify for a free cable card, or is subscribing to analog service enough?

    I have a Tivo HD. Which is nice except that I don’t have programming info available for local broadcast channels which are digital and in the clear in my area on Comcast, and I don’t have HD for the cable channels.

    So di I have to pay for digital service to get a cable card or will analog service cut it?

  15. G Peterson
    G Peterson September 11, 2008 at 6:12 pm |

    Sure nobody likes to spend money for no reason.

    But $1.79 a month? That is peanuts.

  16. RC Siebers
    RC Siebers October 16, 2010 at 10:42 am |

    My understanding is that a cablecard is the same as a digital cable decoder box under the FCC rules. If you subscribe to comcast digital service, you are entitled to one cable box or m-card included (free) as a part of your monthly TV service fee. Each additional one is extra. The box (not the m-card) allows On Demand movie and TV show playbacks. You are better off to get the cable box and feed the DVR HDMI or component signal unless you need the two tuner stream for simultaneous 2-channel recording. Cable boxes can be picked up and self-installed, but M-cards must be installed by a Comcast tech.

  17. Christopher Price
    Christopher Price November 13, 2010 at 3:28 am |

    RC, first, the FCC actually just changed the rules, MSOs (including Comcast) must provide a self-install option for M-Cards. I’m not sure if Comcast has complied with this rule change yet.

    Second, if you return the “free” cable box, the MSO must still give you the option of a free CableCARD for your TiVo. M-Card however is not necessarily free, and thus Comcast has sent a handful (literally) of single CableCARDs to each region, in order to comply with the FCC mandates.

    That of course was probably in response to this article, written over two years ago.

  18. Dieu
    Dieu April 1, 2011 at 6:51 am |

    Your information is outdated. ConCast charges $8.95 per month for the use of their multistream cablecard. Damn joke!

  19. Glenn
    Glenn May 17, 2012 at 8:48 pm |

    As of the day of this post, Comcast claims that the first CableCARD (as per their text) is free for the first card, $1.50/mo for the second.
    However, is the “CableCARD” the same as an M-Card or S-Card?
    I do not know the answer to that.
    Verizon FIOS shows that their CableCARD is $3.99/mo.
    RCN CableCARD 2.0 is $2.00/mo ea. and $2.00/mo for each additional.

    The above is for the Boston area. In addition, these websites make it difficult for the consumer to find this info.

  20. Christopher Price
    Christopher Price May 23, 2012 at 3:50 pm |

    This article was written in 2008, expect the info to be dated accordingly.

    My understanding (while I am no longer a Comcast customer) is that Comcast will (now) send you a single-tuner CableCARD if you object to the M-Card fee on the first CableCARD unit in your home. This complies with the FCC requirement.

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