Fellows Explains Comcast’s Digital Plans

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Comcast Corp.’s top technologist met last Friday with senior Federal Communications Commission staff to explain how the company plans to expand digital-programming offerings, deploy digital-only set-tops and manage bandwidth in a manner that maximizes capacity to accommodate new, nonlinear services.

The meetings occurred between Comcast executive vice president and chief technology office David Fellows and several FCC officials, including Media Bureau chief Kenneth Ferree and some of his digital-TV-transition staff.

According to a summary filed by Comcast Monday, Fellows explained that the company intends to provide a digital simulcast of its analog tiers, anchored by a $50 digital-only set-top with downloadable security.

But development of such a box -- which would not take vendors long to produce -- can’t really go forward with known costs until the FCC decides whether cable companies must deploy, after July 2006, new set-tops with separate security functions activated by a CableCard similar to the one used for plug-and-play digital-TVs that have recently hit the market.

“[Fellows] stressed that a separate security requirement would pose a major impediment to the development of a $50 box,” Comcast outside counsel James Casserly explained.

Comcast’s summary also explained the company’s concerns about bandwidth management if the FCC requires cable operators to carry multiple programming services offered by local digital-TV stations.

If one programming service is required, Comcast can “recapture” bandwidth when a TV station uses less than the maximum 19.4 megabits per second and put it toward video-on-demand services and the prepositioning of content on personal-video recorders “that are used by a growing number of Comcast customers.”

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