Cable Operators

CableCard Set-Tops Top 22.75 Million: NCTA

9/30/2010 5:05 PM Eastern

The 10 biggest U.S. cable operators have deployed more than 22.75 million leased set-top boxes with CableCards since the Federal Communications Commission's integrated set-top ban went into effect in July 2007 -- a rule the cable industry claims has cost more than $1 billion to no discernable effect.

Meanwhile, those same cable operators have deployed approximately 531,000 CableCards for use in retail devices such as TiVo DVRs, according to figures the National Cable & Telecommunications Association supplied to the FCC Thursday.

The FCC -- which has acknowledged the CableCard regime hasn't achieved the aim of fostering a retail set-top market -- has proposed "fixes" to CableCard rules and tentatively added the issue to its Oct. 14 meeting agenda.

The agency has proposed adding new requirements on MSOs with respect to CableCards, including: "more transparent" billing for CableCards; a simplified installation processes; offering only CableCards that can tune multiple streams; and a streamlined CableCard device-certification process.

The NCTA has argued that the integrated set-top ban should be nixed, particularly because the FCC is looking at adopting an "AllVid" requirement applying to all pay-TV providers that would supersede CableCards. However, the group has maintained the industry will continue to support CableCard-based consumer-electronics devices.

"[T]the integration ban has imposed more than a billion dollars in costs on cable operators and consumers, yet there is no compelling evidence of any correlation between CableCard use in leased devices and the adoption of retail CableCard devices or other consumer benefits," NCTA said in comments to the FCC in June. "But even if there were such evidence, there is certainly no evidence that consumers would receive a commensurate incremental benefit from continued imposition of the integration ban on devices over and above the 20 million CableCard devices cable operators have already deployed."

Short of a complete elimination of the integration ban, NCTA has pushed the FCC to consider exempting digital terminal adapters (DTAs) from the rule.

The cable industry opposes a proposal by TiVo that would require an "IP backchannel" for tuning adapters, small devices required to let one-way CableCard devices to access switched digital video channels. The NCTA claims developing a standardized IP backchannel solution for SDV would be costly and time-consuming.

Meanwhile, the FCC also has proposed modifying the interface requirement for HD cable set-top boxes to let operators include either a FireWire (IEEE 1394), Ethernet, Wi-Fi or USB 3.0 interface.

The agency has required HD set-tops to include FireWire since July 2005 but this past June suspended the requirement as long as boxes provided an alternate IP output. The NCTA has argued that the FCC shouldn't mandate the use of any particular interface.