Charter Completes All-Digital Upgrade in North Texas

CableCARD-Based Set-Tops Still in Play as MSO Prepares to Deploy Downloadable Security

Charter Communications said it has completed a four-month, all-digital upgrade in North Texas that covers Fort Worth and 40 surrounding communities, enabling the MSO to reclaim enough spectrum to more than double its HDTV channel lineup and broaden its VOD library.

Charter said it now offers 141 HD channels in the region after adding 80 to its lineup, including hi-def versions of ABC Family, BET, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Travel Channel, CMTS and The Longhorn Network. The MSO is also using the reclaimed capacity to offer more than 12,000 VOD “options,” including 2,500 titles in HD format.  Charter is spending north of $40 million on network improvements in the area.

"By removing analog signals from our network, we gained the bandwidth and ability to bring so much more value to our customers. With a digital set-top box on every television, our customers now have a host of new and exciting digital entertainment options available at the touch of a button,” said John Owen, Charter’s  regional VP in Fort Worth, in a statement.

The MSO has not completed all-digital upgrades in any other markets, a Charter spokeswoman said.

At this stage in the upgrade, Charter is using two-way, CableCARD-based set-tops to assist with its transition, eschewing simple, less expensive one-way digital transport adapters (DTAs) that MSOs such have Comcast have leaned on to power their analog reclamation strategies.  

In North Texas, the all-digital upgrade is just one part of more than $40 million in improvements being made to Charter's network. In addition, the company is replacing hundreds of miles of aging cable and making other core infrastructure improvements that will continue into 2014.

Looking ahead, Charter is looking to use a new type of dual-security box that supports an integrated version of its legacy conditional access system and a new downloadable version.  In April, Charter secured a conditional, two-year waiver from the FCC that cleared the MSO to use boxes with integrated security to assist the MSO with its all-digital transition and its migration to the new downloadable system.  Charter argued that developing dual-security boxes that relied on CableCARDs would be prohibitively expensive and delay its all-digital migration unnecessarily.

However, that part of Charter’s plan is getting static from the Consumer Electronics Association, which has asked the FCC for a full review the Media Bureau’s grant of the waiver, holding that the bureau did not have the authority to make the decision. TiVo has asked the FCC to reconsider the waiver and modify it in a way that requires Charter to continue to supply and support CableCARDs to customers who use retail devices.  TiVo is also asking the FCC to clarify that the Bureau has made no findings regarding whether Charter’s planned system or any other downloadable system complies with the integration ban.

As a condition of its FCC waiver, Charter has committed to converting 100% of its systems, including its entire rural footprint, to all-digital  within nine months after the end of the two-year waiver. Provided the FCC waiver holds up, that would place Charter's completion target somewhere in the first half of 2016.