So what's the problem?
To make sure that everyone was on the same footing, the regulators decided that the cable company's device also had to use the cards, too.
The logic was that if everyone had to use the same underlying technology -- the card -- the cable guys couldn't give their boxes some capability that gives them an unfair advantage.
Additionally, the theory goes, only by requiring the cable guys to use cards will there be enough demand for the cards to drive down their manufacturing costs. And only then will there be incentive to build a lot of devices consumers could choose from.
The cable guys never liked this part of the plan. They successfully lobbied to delay the deadline once, from the beginning of 2005 to mid-2006. Now, they are pushing hard to either extend the deadline another 18 months or do away with the requirement.
They say they have every reason to want devices using cards to succeed because that would create more opportunities to sell cable service.
If Comcast could cut a deal with, say, Sony to market a "digital-cable" TV that you can get at a discount at Circuit City if you sign up for digital cable service, that gets the cable guys a new customer.
On the other hand, they say, forcing them to offer new equipment with cards to people who don't want anything except the basic box will increase consumers' costs.
No one seems to know exactly how much these cards will cost to make, but the price could drive up the cost of box rentals because the cable guys have no interest in losing money on this deal.
So what's been the response to changing the rules from electronics companies and other technology firms eager to jump into this market?