Cable Tech

New Rules!

5:00 AM -- A small but very vocal group of video customers are about three months away from getting their wish -- that cable operators across the land must offer a self-install option for CableCARDs used in retail devices, such as digital TVs and some TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO), Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS)-made Moxi DVRs, as well as specialized tuners that can turn PCs into digital cable set-tops. (See Ceton Pitches Cable Set-Top Alternative .)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced Tuesday that the effective date for some new tweaks to the existing CableCARD rules is Aug. 8, but operators won't have to comply with the self-install provision until Nov. 1. And, in case you give a hoot, the new rules give them until Dec. 1, 2012 to include a home networking output on HD set-top boxes. (See FCC Inches Towards Net-Agnostic Gateways.)

As ZatzNotFunny blogger Dave Zatz pointed out recently, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) already supports the self-install option. A Cox Communications Inc. official says they have been offering CableCARD self-install since July, so they clearly don't have any former journalists on staff. I mean, who doesn't squeeze every ounce out of a deadline?

I've asked some other major MSOs to weigh in on their plans to comply and how many mountains they've had to move in order to do it.

Self-installs will save MSOs truck roll dollars and save customers a few headaches … if this approach works as advertised. If it doesn't, and an MSO has to roll a truck anyway, then there's really nothing to be gained here, except for even more teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing.

The good news is that a CableCARD in a retail devices remains rare, and it's likely to stay that way for all time. New TiVo customers stand to benefit the most.

In its latest report to the FCC on June 30, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) said the top 10 incumbent MSOs had deployed about 582,000 CableCARD modules for use in retail devices, versus 29.3 million that were pre-paired in operator-supplied set-top boxes since the ban on integrated set-top security took effect four years ago. That means a mere 50,000 security modules were deployed for use in retail cable-ready devices since the CableCARD report the NCTA issued last September. Not exactly the kind of a retail market catalyst the FCC was hoping for.

Adding a self-install option represents a big advance, but, let's face it, it's an advance for an antiquated, clunky technology that the FCC should have left for dead even before the original CableCARD rules took effect in July 2007. I don't see any consumer electronics guys trying to improve the efficiency of 8-Track players. Then again, you can't improve on, umm, perfection. (See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.)

This may (thankfully) be the last major chapter on the CableCARD. Now we can only look forward to AllVid, another potential FCC rule-making that could take the distraction that was the CableCARD to a fiasco-level disaster that would spread not just to cable, but to the telcos and satellite TV guys too. Why let the MSOs have all the fun?

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:57:53 PM
re: New Rules!

A Comcast officials say the MSO will offer customers the option to pick up a CableCARD self-install kit at its front counters by 8/8, when the new rules become active. Operators that don't have SIKs in place now still have until 11/1 to comply, so there's still time. Just not that much of it. JB





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