CableCard Set-Tops Near 30 Million

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The cable industry has rolled out more than 29.3 million set-tops with CableCard devices under the FCC's four-year-old ban on boxes with integrated security -- a requirement that remains in effect even though the agency has acknowledged it has been ineffectual.

The 10 biggest U.S. cable operators have to date deployed 582,000 standalone CableCards to subscribers for use in retail devices such as TiVo DVRs, according to figures the National Cable & Telecommunications Association submitted to the FCC Thursday.

The integrated set-top ban was supposed to foster better MSO support for retail devices that use CableCards, which handle authentication and decryption functions to access cable TV programming. But the policy has not resulted in the FCC's hoped-for surge in sales among third-party cable-ready navigation devices.

The NCTA has argued that the integrated set-top ban should be eradicated, saying it adds cost to operators while serving no purpose.

But far from eliminating the rules, the FCC has added new CableCard requirements, including: ensuring access to switched digital video by retail devices; prohibiting box-price discrimination; requiring that consumers have the option of self-installing CableCards; providing subscribers with information on the cost of retail set-tops vs. leased boxes; making it easier to get retail devices to market by streamlining testing and certification; and allowing cable operators to provide basic HD boxes with integrated security functions.

The FCC is currently considering a successor to the CableCard regime. The new "AllVid" regulation would force all multichannel video programming distributors -- including satellite and telco TV providers -- to deliver video to third-party hardware devices using a common set of technical interfaces.

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