& cplSiteName &

Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
5/25/2007
50%
50%

T-minus five weeks and counting.

U.S. cable operators, big and small, are hustling to comply with a quickly approaching mandate from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that will ban MSOs from buying and deploying set-tops with integrated security. That ban comes into effect July 1, 2007.

When the ban becomes active, cable operators will be prohibited from purchasing or deploying any new set-tops with the security embedded in the device.

After June 30, 2007, any newly purchased and deployed digital set-top purchases must have separable security. More often than not, this separation will occur at the set-top via a special interface that houses the CableCARD, a removable module that contains the conditional access keys necessary to authorize digital cable services. Most "host" devices (set-tops) deployed after this date will handle interactive services such as video-on-demand when used in tandem with the Multistream CableCARD, or M-Card. (See Show Me the M-Card!)

The cable industry is also developing more elegant, less expensive downloadable conditional access systems, but those will not be ready for commercial deployment by the deadline. (See PolyCipher Targets '08 Trials and Small Cablers Plan Sub-$100 Set-Tops.)

By separating out the security elements, the FCC mandate aims to open up cable set-top competition -- an arena presently dominated by Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Scientific Atlanta , with some limited traction obtained in recent years by Pace Micro Technology .

Although competition might open up sometime down the road, many operators have complained that the ban will create an unnecessary cost burden in the near-term, and force them to introduce a new system that provides little to no incremental services benefit to cable customers.

Most of those cost-related complaints have centered on low-end, entry level digital set-tops. Operators have argued that the CableCARD version of some set-top models cost two to three times that of integrated security models that provide similar capabilities.

RCN Corp. , for example, has disclosed in FCC filings that the DCT700, a bare-bones all-digital model with integrated security, costs about $84 each, while the DCH100 -- the closest CableCARD equivalent model -- costs about $232 per unit.

Faced with this cost discrepancy, several MSOs, including RCN, have applied for special waivers for lower-end set-top models with integrated security. So far, those efforts have been hit and miss. The FCC Media Bureau declined a waiver request from Comcast, but has granted conditional waivers to a handful of other operators. (See FCC to Comcast: 'No Waiver for You' and MSOs Get Waiver on Set-Top Security.)

Many other MSOs are still awaiting decisions on their requests. The table below offers a snapshot of present waiver activity.

Table 1: Set-Top Waiver Activity

Company Request FCC Media Bureau Action/Status*
BendBroadband Sought waiver on the Motorola DCT700, an entry-level, all-digital set-top that costs less than $100 per unit. Operator argued that the box is critical to its plans to migrate to an all-digital environment. Granted waiver on condition that operator accomplish its migration to all-digital by 2008. Operator must also reach certain milestones during this period.
Cablevision Systems Corp. Sought permanent waiver, citing that deployed digital set-top already use removable SmartCard-based conditional access systems (supplied by NDS Group). Grandfathered Cablevison's present use of set-tops with SmartCard technology until July 1, 2009. After that date, Cablevision must migrate to FCC-approved separable security such as the CableCard or a downloadable conditional access system.
Charter Communications Sought waiver on seven set-top box models. Granted a waiver on those models until July 1, 2008, citing the MSO's "financial difficulties" in its justification. Charter may also file a request for an extension.
Comcast Sought waiver on three entry-level, all-digital models: the Motorola DCT700, Scientific Atlanta 940, and Pace Micro "Chicago" DC501p. Denied Comcast's request for a waiver. MSO now seeking full FCC review of the matter.
GCI Sought waiver on all new set-top boxes, acknowledging it "primarily relies" on the Motorola DCT700, an all-digital model, and two hybrid analog/digital models: the DCT1000, and DCT2000. Granted waiver on the DCT700, DCT1000, and DCT2000, but stipulated that the operator must migrate systems to all-digital by Feb. 17, 2009.
OneSource Communications Sought waiver for the Motorola DCT700 entry-level all-digital box, and the DCT3416, a model with on-board DVR and HDTV capabilities. Conditionally granted waiver on the DCT700, so long as MSO commits to migrate to all-digital by Feb. 17, 2009. FCC denied waiver on the DCT3416, arguing that the model is not "critical" to the operator's all-digital ambitions.
* Results as of May 25, 2007. The FCC Media Bureau has yet to act on several other waiver requests from service providers such as RCN Corp. and Verizon.




To reduce the operational impact of the ban, most operators plan to deploy set-tops with the CableCARD pre-inserted at the factory. As the theory goes, this should all but eliminate the impact on warehousing and provisioning as boxes reach the operator and make their way to the field. Set-top makers have already made this an option for cable operators as they place purchase orders ahead of the deadline.

"The key is to make this as seamless as possible to the consumers," says Marwan Fawaz, the executive vice president and chief technology officer of Charter Communications Inc. .

This installation in the series tracks the progress of three cable operators: Charter Communications, Cox Communications Inc. , and Bresnan Communications. Future reports will cover the progress and challenges faced by other MSOs, how set-top manufacturers are stepping up to meet the tremendous demand for CableCARD hosts, and gauge the opportunities (or lack thereof) the deadline will present to consumer electronics manufacturers that are looking to crack the U.S. cable set-top market.

Charter Communications
Charter is one of a fortunate few to obtain a limited waiver on several digital set-top models with integrated security.

But that waiver -- set to conclude in July 2008 unless Charter tries to extend it -- gives the operator only limited relief and breathing room.

"We're thankful for the waiver," Fawaz acknowledges. "But that still doesn't completely put us in a position where we don't have to support host boxes."

On that note, he points out that more than half of Charter's set-tops are high-end units that support high-definition television (HDTV), digital video recording (DVR), or a combo of both. Because the waiver only addresses low-end set-tops, Charter will still have to deploy the CableCARD versions of the more advanced STB models.

Because those high-end boxes support some services and apps not found in entry-level digital boxes, the bigger cost on the CableCARD version is "a pill easier to swallow," Fawaz says.

Knowing the situation, Charter has been preparing for the deadline in earnest even before it was granted the waiver, gearing up in areas such as warehousing, procurement, training, billing, and customer care.

"It's not a flash-cut when you talk about warehouses," Fawaz says, adding that Charter is trying to exhaust its supply of integrated boxes as much as possible before July 1. Any "new" set-tops with integrated security (i.e., units that have not been deployed to customer homes) still languishing in the warehouse after the deadline will be as useful as boat anchors.

"It's an absolute balance operators have to work through," Fawaz says. "If you haven't provided the right forecast six to nine months ago, it will be extremely challenging." Charter, he adds, started getting ready for the July 2007 ban in the third and fourth quarters of 2006.

While coordinating with suppliers and allocating procurement resources has marked one of the biggest challenges faced by Charter in its preparation for the mandated ban, getting on top of new software releases and getting the bugs worked out and patches installed has also complicated the effort.

"That's been ongoing since the fourth quarter of last year, and we're on the tail end of that," Fawaz says. "We're confident we'll be ready. We have no choice but to comply with the rules."

To Page 2

(3)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
DDustin
50%
50%
DDustin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:49:44 PM
re: Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'
The FCC pulling a move like this is very scary. It makes you wonder who might have been bribed and by who. The 'vouchers' look like another system of exchanging favors.

This ordeal stinks of corruption.
tomcoseven
50%
50%
tomcoseven,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:07:53 PM
re: Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'
Just for completeness, you may want to include the status on the Verizon waiver, which was requested in July 2006.

Satellite is excluded (for now) since at one time in ancient history multi-vendor boxes were sold nationwide through retail stores, rather than leased. It would be interesting to hear whether anyone thinks the FCC will update their positon to reflect current realities, or if Satellite keep this competitive advantage. Also it would be interesing to hear the updated thinking on AT&T's positioning. For the longest time AT&T was arguing they were exempt from any Title VI requirements (franchising, must carry, 629, etc...), because they were a data service. However, if Net Neutrality goes forward (with the Dorgan-Snow exclusion for Title VI), AT&T might want to rethink this.
Jeff Baumgartner
50%
50%
Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:07:53 PM
re: Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'
"Just for completeness, you may want to include the status on the Verizon waiver, which was requested in July 2006."

It wasn't pointed out in the story, but the chart within the story did indicate that Verizon, RCN, and several other video service operators are still awaiting answers on their waiver requests. As for Verizon, my understanding is that they are seeking waiver until boxes with downloadable CA becomes commercially viable. But it is good that you mention that DBS is excluded from the fun for now. We'll also do some checking on AT&T's thinking on this...and what Verizon is doing now to prepare for the deadline barring a waiver.
From The Founder
The independent evaluation of Nokia's key virtual network functions (VNFs) was a defining moment for the Finnish giant.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP’s Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it’s going from two industry veterans.
LRTV Custom TV
Cisco's Innovations in Cable

5|26|16   |   03:18   |   (0) comments


Marc Aldrich from Cisco discusses the latest in security, the evolution and momentum for CCAP and what the industry will be seeing next from Cisco.
LRTV Documentaries
Leading Lights 2016 Highlights

5|25|16   |   02:26   |   (1) comment


Some of the high points from this year's Leading Lights awards dinner at the Hotel Ella in Austin, Texas.
LRTV Documentaries
Light Reading Hall of Fame 2016

5|23|16   |   05:43   |   (0) comments


Find out who has been welcomed into Light Reading's Hall of Fame this year.
LRTV Custom TV
ZTE TM Forum Highlights

5|23|16   |     |   (0) comments


ZTE showcased its new ICT solutions at TM Forum in Nice.
LRTV Interviews
Gamma's MD on the Emergence of UC2

5|20|16   |     |   (0) comments


Gamma Communications Managing Director David Macfarlane believes the unified communications (UC) market has reached a tipping point.
LRTV Custom TV
The Ultimate 5-Minute Guide to Digital Customer Engagement

5|20|16   |     |   (0) comments


In this short video, you will hear all about how Digital Customer Engagement is the key to meeting customer expectations, keeping them happy, and maximizing revenue. VP Product & Marketing at Pontis, Ofer Razon, breaks down for us the five essential capabilities for successful Digital Customer Engagement. Don’t miss!
LRTV Custom TV
NFV in 2016: Part 1 – NFV Use Cases Get Real

5|19|16   |   05:57   |   (0) comments


Consensus is building around the key use cases for NFV, including managed IP services at the network edge and on customer premises, which can generate new revenues from enterprises/SMBs and consumers; Evolved Packet Core to support LTE migration; and adjacent technologies, such as TAS and IMS, to support VoLTE and next-generation charging and policy control ...
LRTV Custom TV
Nokia's Steve Vogelsang on NFV – Part 3

5|19|16   |     |   (0) comments


Steve Vogelsang discusses the challenges of operational transformation and how Nokia helps its customers. Join Steve at the Big Communications Event in Austin the morning of May 24, on his keynote and optical networking panel.
LRTV Interviews
Level 3: Why UC Is In Demand

5|17|16   |   04:12   |   (1) comment


Andrew Edison, Level 3's senior VP of sales, EMEA region, talks about the drivers of growth in the unified communications services market.
LRTV Custom TV
ARM's OPNFV Action

5|17|16   |     |   (0) comments


At the ARM booth at MWC 2016, Joe Kidder and Bob Monkman speak to Light Reading about OPNFV and their upcoming action.
LRTV Custom TV
Nokia's Steve Vogelsang on NFV – Part 2

5|16|16   |     |   (0) comments


Steve Vogelsang gives advice to service providers on how to move to NFV. Join Steve at the Big Communications Event in Austin the morning of May 24, on his keynote and optical networking panel.
LRTV Interviews
Interoute CTO on NFV's Maturity

5|13|16   |   06:46   |   (1) comment


Matt Finnie, CTO at international operator Interoute, explains how NFV has made life easier in terms of logistics and how Interoute can now enable a 'software-defined moment' for its customers.
Upcoming Live Events
September 13-14, 2016, The Curtis Hotel, Denver, CO
December 6-8, 2016,
June 16-18, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
A new survey conducted by Heavy Reading and TM Forum shows that CSPs around the world see the move to digital operations as a necessary part of their overall virtualization strategies.
Hot Topics
DT: Telcos Must Escape Vendor Prison
Iain Morris, News Editor, 5/24/2016
AT&T to Start 5G 'Friendly' Trial by 2016 End
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 5/24/2016
WiCipedia: Short Skirts & Back-Up Plans
Eryn Leavens, Special Features & Copy Editor, 5/20/2016
Eurobites: Be More European, EU Tells Streaming Services
Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, 5/20/2016
Cable Is Eyeing Its Retail Options
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 5/25/2016
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
In this latest installment of the CEO Chat series, Craig Labovitz, co-founder and CEO of Deepfield, sits down with Light Reading's Steve Saunders in Light Reading's New York City office to discuss how Deepfield fits in with the big data trend and more.
Grant van Rooyen, president and CEO of Cologix, sits down with Steve Saunders, founder and CEO of Light Reading, in the vendor's New Jersey facility to offer an inside look at the company's success story and discuss the importance of security in the telecom industry.
Animals with Phones
Live Digital Audio

Our world has evolved through innovation from the Industrial Revolution of the 1740s to the information age, and it is now entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, driven by technology. Technology is driving a paradigm shift in the way digital solutions deliver a connected world, changing the way we live, communicate and provide solutions. It can have a powerful impact on how we tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems. In this radio show, Caroline Dowling, President of Communications Infrastructure & Enterprise Computing at Flex, will join Women in Comms Director Sarah Thomas to discuss the impact technology has on society and how it can be a game-changer across the globe; improving lives and creating a smarter world. Dowling, a Cork, Ireland, native and graduate of Harvard Business School's Advanced Management Program, will also discuss her experience managing an international team focused on innovation in an age of high-speed change.