Top MSOs Deploy Nearly 20M CableCard Set-Tops


Cable operators continue to spend millions
complying with the Federal Communications
Commission’s separable-security rules, even though
less than 2.5% of their customers have opted to use CableCards
in standalone devices.

The 10 biggest cable operators have put into service
more than 19.5 million set-tops with CableCards since
the FCC’s so-called “integration ban” went into effect on
July 1, 2007. By contrast, those MSOs have deployed just
489,000 CableCards for standalone devices, such as TiVo
digital video recorders, according to a National Cable &
Telecommunications Association notice filed last week
with the FCC.

And the CableCard regime, which prohibits operators
from deploying any advanced digital set-tops with integrated
security, could become even more onerous: The
FCC has proposed changes to go into effect later in 2010
that, among other things, would require operators to
“standardize installation policies for retail and operatorleased
CableCard devices” (see Rules).

Separately, the American Cable Association last week
pressed the FCC to move forward on Evolution Digital’s
eight-month-old request to exempt low-cost, limitedfunction
HD set-tops from the separable-security requirements.

“In numerous filings in support of set-top box waiver
requests, ACA has demonstrated the critical need for the
availability of low-cost integrated set-top boxes to small
and medium-sized operators,” ACA CEO Matt Polka wrote
in a March 31 letter.

Evolution in July 2009 filed a petition with the FCC for
a waiver for its HD digital terminal adapter — priced less
than $100 — from the integrated set-top ban.

Low-cost digital terminal adapters, or DTAs, are designed
to allow cable systems to free up spectrum by allowing operators
to retire analog TV channels. The FCC in June 2009
approved Evolution Broadband’s request for a three-year
waiver for standard-definition DTAs with integrated security

According to Polka, the absence of low-cost, HD devices
with integrated security is forcing cable operators to make
a choice. They can purchase and deploy low-cost non-HD
integrated set-top boxes. Alternately, they can wait to see
whether the FCC will expand the applicability of the Cable
One order — which allows that MSO to use low-cost
HD boxes in one market — to permit any cable operator
to purchase and deploy low-cost, limited-capability HD
set-top boxes.

“The Commission’s delay in publicly addressing this issue
— one that has been pending at the Commission since
last year — is negatively impacting the marketplace and
consumers, particularly in smaller markets and rural areas
served by small cable operators,” Polka said.