Evolution Seeks FCC Waiver For Sub-$100 HD Set-Top

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Cable-equipment supplier Evolution Broadband will ask the Federal Communications Commission to exempt its low-cost, limited-function HD device from an agency rule barring operators from deploying devices with integrated security, arguing that consumers are "being deprived of the HD-quality programming they expect and deserve."

The company is filing the request Thursday with the FCC, according to Evolution Digital president Brent Smith.

The request comes after the FCC in June approved Evolution Broadband's request for a three-year waiver for standard-definition digital transport adapters (DTAs) that include security functions. DTAs are designed to convert digital channels for viewing on analog TV sets.

In a draft of the waiver request, which Evolution provided to Multichannel News, the company cited the FCC's May 28 ruling allowing Cable One to deploy a low-cost HD set-top in a single market, Dyersburg, Tenn. Cable One had said that without a waiver it would need to rely on a CableCard-based HD box with a wholesale price range of $400 to $500.

"As the commission has recently concluded, it is now appropriate to add HD functionality to the list of one-way capabilities that can qualify for a waiver of the integration ban," Evolution said in the filing.

Evolution's DMS-1004HD-CA box is a one-way MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 device that does not include digital video recording, multiple tuners or other advanced features. The box is available for less than $100, according to the vendor, and is equipped with a removable SIM card with conditional-access technology from Conax, a subsidiary of Norwegian telecommunications operator Telenor.

The FCC, in the Cable One order, said it saw "no reason to provide a regulatory incentive to deprive consumers of the HD-quality programming they expected and paid for when they purchased their [HDTV] sets."

According to Evolution, the waiver is necessary for operators to cost-effectively provide subscribers HD service on multiple televisions in their home. The DMS-1004HD-CA box, at under $100, would cost less than a standard 19-inch flat-panel HDTV -- whereas CableCard-compliant HD set-top boxes currently on the market cost approximately $300 to $325 each, according to Evolution.

A cable provider would have to install the Conax-based conditional-access system to use the Evolution DMS-1004HD-CA. The vendor noted in the waiver request that the Conax CA is compliant with DVB SimulCrypt, a specification that allows the coexistence of multiple CA systems in the same cable system.

The FCC's separable security mandate, which went into effect for most cable operators July 1, 2007, is supposed to help foster the market for retail devices that use CableCards to access programming by forcing the operators to use the technology in their own leased set-tops.

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