Cable Tech

Charter Bemoans CableCARD Costs

Charter Communications Inc. continued its fight for a special set-top waiver at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Monday, telling the agency that it would be prohibitively expensive for the MSO to develop boxes that can support both the CableCARD and a new, proposed downloadable video security platform. Charter is seeking a two-year waiver that would let it deploy set-top boxes that run the new downloadable security alongside its legacy security system simultaneously. Charter wants to run its current security system as an integrated component (rather than via a removable CableCARD) while it rolls out a new downloadable platform that will serve as a key cog of Charter's broader all-digital transition. (See Charter Sets All-Digital Path for Video.) Charter needs the waiver to sidestep a July 2007 FCC mandate that bans cable operators from deploying set-tops with integrated security. Cablevision Systems Corp. sought and secured a similar FCC waiver in 2009, but the FCC has yet to act on Charter's request. (See Cablevision Scores Set-Top Waiver Extension and Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.) Charter is largely modeling its plan around Cablevision's new video platform, which relies on a downloadable security system based on the NDS (now Cisco Systems Inc.) "key ladder" that currently runs on Samsung Corp.-made boxes. (See Charter's Video Plan Good News for Cisco, Samsung.) Big redesign costs
In a filing with the FCC, Charter argued that it would be saddled with "significant" costs if it did not get the waiver and was forced to develop and deploy set-tops that support both the CableCARD and the new downloadable security system. The device for which Charter is seeking a waiver is based on a non-U.S. set-top with integrated security that has added the downloadable security piece. Charter estimates that redesign costs would cause the price of CableCARD/downloadable security combo boxes to run 40 percent higher versus the cost of the device for which the MSO is seeking the waiver. The cost of the CableCARD module and the interface in its current boxes alone runs $40 to $50 -- meaning the components would "add $40 million of unnecessary costs for every million set-top boxes," Charter noted. Charter says it's prepared to begin the project as soon as a waiver is granted, but stressed that it will be unable to deploy downloadable security "for the foreseeable future" without one because it lacks access to an affordable set-top that can support both security systems. The operator estimated that such a product would take at least six months to design. Charter's request is getting some static. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), for example, is urging the FCC to quash more waivers and instead pursue a proposed CableCARD successor called AllVid that would be applied not just to cable, but to telco and satellite TV operators as well. (See CEA Tries to Kill Charter's Video Plan.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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