Operators Top 2.2M CableCard Set-Tops

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The nation’s 10 biggest cable operators deployed more than 2.255 million set-top boxes with removable CableCards from July to December, according to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, representing an incremental cost to the industry that likely exceeded $100 million.

The Federal Communications Commission's so-called integration ban, which went into effect July 1, requires most operators to use CableCards to handle the security functions in the digital set-tops they lease to their own subscribers. The industry originally created the CableCard, about the size of a deck of playing cards, to allow any consumer-electronics makers’ products to receive cable TV programming.

To put those 2.255 million boxes into service, the cable industry in 2007 spent more than $100 million using industry analysts’ estimates that CableCard-based set-tops cost $50 more per unit than those with integrated security. The NCTA has claimed the added cost is as much as $93 per unit, which would yield a tab topping $200 million for those six months.

Meanwhile, the same 10 operators – which serve 90% of cable subscribers in the U.S. – had supplied customers with at least 300,000 standalone CableCards by early December. Those cards are used in TiVo digital video recorders and other electronics not supplied by the operators. The NCTA released the latest CableCard figures in a Dec. 26 filing with the FCC.

In July and August 2007, those operators had deployed 650,000 CableCard set-tops, and as of early September had supplied 278,000 standalone cards to individual consumers.

The CableCard-based set-tops deployed by operators do not function differently from traditional boxes that have embedded security. The FCC is requiring cable companies to use the CableCard technology under a principle known as “common reliance,” which is supposed to ensure third-party TVs and DVRs to function in the same way operator-supplied boxes do.

The FCC is currently considering a rule to standardize the way consumer electronics access interactive cable services, such as video-on-demand. The Consumer Electronics Association has proposed an extension to CableCard called “digital cable ready plus” for providing access to two-way services, while the NCTA is pushing the OpenCable Platform middleware as the more feasible path.

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