Operators' CableCard Box Tally Tops 21 Million

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The 10 biggest U.S. cable operators have deployed more than 21 million set-top boxes with CableCards in the three years since the Federal Communications Commission enacted the so-called integrated set-top ban.

Those same operators have distributed about 520,000 CableCards for use in retail devices, such as TiVo DVRs, according to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's quarterly CableCard report to the FCC.

According to NCTA estimates, the industry has now spent more than $1 billion complying with the integrated set-top ban, which requires separable security functions in the form of CableCards in operator-supplied equipment.

The FCC itself has acknowledged that the CableCard regime has failed to produce a "competitive retail market" for third-party consumer-electronics devices.

On April 21 the commission proposed "interim fixes" to CableCard rules until a regulation is in place that applies to all video distributors. The FCC's "further notice of proposed rulemaking" on CableCards that proposes adding four requirements for cable operators: "more transparent" billing for CableCards; simplified installation processes; CableCards that can tune multiple streams; and a streamlined CableCard device certification process.

The NCTA has argued that the integrated set-top ban be eliminated, although it maintains the industry will continue to support CableCard-based CE devices.

"While relatively minor short-term fixes may be warranted, we firmly believe that imposing any additional significant or burdensome CableCard-related requirements solely on the cable industry would be misdirected, particularly given the Commission's drive towards a more innovative and collaborative future that embraces all MVPDs [multichannel video programming distributors]," the NCTA said in comments filed with the FCC last week.

The trade group also noted that the CableCard M-Card spec already provides up to four streams and that MSOs have offered them since 2007.

Meanwhile, the FCC proposed that cable operators be allowed to deploy one-way, low-cost digital terminal adapters (DTAs), including HD-capable devices. That would let operators "offer increased broadband speeds and more high-definition programming without substantially affecting the retail market for CableCard devices," the agency said.

The NCTA supports exempting standard- and high-definition DTAs from the integration ban, although its preference would be for a complete elimination of the common-reliance rule.

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