Middleware in the Infrastructure of Cable Television

In today’s rapidly evolving society, technology and the infrastructure that surround it are developing at a pace that has made it practically impossible for the average person to comprehend the full-extent of components that connect a distributor and its end-product. In addition, the distributors of these products often are self-effacing in their practices, which allow customers to connect the distributor and the product without considering any of the processes that occur in between. In the case of cable television, most people who sat down to watch the Notre Dame vs. Michigan game on Saturday didn’t consider the processes, which brought the game to their living room. The game was filmed, the film was combined with sound from various sources by a broadcast company, the picture and sound were transmitted to a satellite in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth that transmitted the game to a receiver at a cable company that distributed the game via fiber-optic cable to the viewer’s home. Upon its arrival to a viewer’s living room, the cable box decrypted the signal and transmitted it into a frequency of roughly 600kHz, which corresponds to a channel.

In this case, watching broadcasted programs on television is considered the component top layer while the totality of broadcast networks is considered the bottom-layer. Some middleware-layers that exist between these components are regulation and standard setting agencies like the FCC, cable companies like Comcast or Time Warner Cable, and the set-top box, which is responsible for converting the encrypted signal into a form that the television can display.

The media bureau sector of the FCC is responsible for creating and administering policies that regulate the use of cable television. It is responsible for creating standards for the satellites, and the other physical infrastructures that are involved in transmitting a cable signal as well as regulating the content of the cable broadcasts themselves. By creating a set of standards, the FCC bridges the gap between the broadcast networks and the cable companies, acting as the “glue” that makes cable TV possible.

Cable companies are responsible for distributing the programs delivered by the satellites of broadcast networks. Part of the distribution process involves receiving and processing the signals sent from broadcast networks at the head-end facility, encrypting these signals and sending them through a series of trunklines and distribution amplifiers. This signal, carried through fiber-optic cables, eventually reaches the service drop where it is sent to homes and deciphered by the set-top box. Much of the cable company’s infrastructure, including the encryption of the signal, trunklines, distribution amplifiers, and the set-top box, is proprietary.  Over the past 15-20 years, not much has changed in terms of how the signal is delivered to the house other than reducing the number of amplifiers and making them more powerful and developing new technology that allows companies to send each individual channel over a smaller range of frequencies, which has expanded the number of channels that viewers can receive. In this way, cable companies provide the essential framework for connecting the broadcast networks to the end-users.

Each of these middleware components is often overlooked unless the service is not functioning properly (the cable goes out). From our analysis of the middleware layers of the cable television infrastructure, it is evident that in order to fully understand an infrastructure, one must examine the middleware components because these components are necessary for a functional infrastructure.




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