Charter really wants approval on its plan to buy up Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, and it's willing to promise the moon in exchange for a regulatory nod.
Among the guarantees on the cable company's list, Charter Communications Inc. has promised to offer the new Worldbox set-top to New Charter customers currently in markets served by Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Bright House Networks . The Worldbox is Charter's brand name for a hybrid IP/QAM set-top line that includes boxes with up to 16 tuners, a DOCSIS 3.0 modem, 1GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage in the DVR model. More importantly, however, the Worldbox design includes support for a downloadable conditional access system (DCAS) created by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), which means the boxes should be portable throughout Charter's newly extended footprint, and potentially even transferable to other cable operator systems. (See Charter Thinks Outside the 'Worldbox'.)
The DCAS component is a tricky issue. For one thing, a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) -appointed working group is hashing out the details now on recommendations for a downloadable security system that may have to be adopted by the entire pay-TV industry. This shouldn't render Charter's existing DCAS technology from Cisco moot, but it could put additional requirements on it, which might have an impact on Worldbox deployments. (See FCC Suffers Content Security's Growing Pains.)
For another thing, one purpose of DCAS technology is to allow third-party hardware access to encrypted pay-TV services. In other words, even as Charter is promising to make the Worldbox available to customers, it's also putting the pieces in place to decrease the need for an operator-provided set-top at all. In theory -- and if the FCC has its way -- retail consumer electronics makers will soon be able to sell their own devices that can be hooked up to a traditional cable TV package.
Related to the Worldbox promise, Charter also says it will offer its new cloud-based Spectrum Guide to new customers (again, a feature that makes it possible to navigate pay-TV services on third-party devices), and that it will migrate older analog TV systems to all-digital video. Charter completed its own migration to all-digital in 2014. However, many of the markets it proposes to acquire have not made the same transition. An all-digital environment will presumably be necessary to support the Worldbox (unless an adapter is added to the mix), although the Spectrum guide can be rolled out to older hardware operating on legacy analog systems. (See Charter Completes Digital Transition.)
For set-top vendors, an approval of Charter's acquisition plans should mean a bump in spending in the near future. Although the set-top market consolidated for the first time in 2014 in a dozen years -- and that trend is likely to continue in the long term -- the short-term outlook is rosy if Charter suddenly ramps up Worldbox orders. (See Pay-TV STB Revenues Plunge .)
Currently, Cisco and Humax Co. Ltd. are the two vendors that Charter has listed as Worldbox partners. Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) also believes it's in the running for Worldbox business, but no official partnership announcements to that effect have been made. (See Arris Likes Its Charter Chances Too and Arris, Charter Nab ActiveVideo for $135M.)
Meanwhile, outside of the set-top space, Charter has also made several promises regarding broadband access if and when its acquisition plans are given the go-ahead. Charter says it will make greater investments in WiFi, increase minimum broadband speed tiers to 60 Mbit/s, extend its networks further within both its residential and commercial footprints, build further on low-income broadband programs and other community investment initiatives, refrain from implementing data caps and usage-based billing, abide by net neutrality regulations and engage in reasonable interconnection arrangements.
To drive its point home, Charter recently hired four new lobbying firms, bringing the total number of outside consulting firms in its roster to nine. That news was first reported by The Hill, and covered by Fierce Cable.
Charter is going all out to make its case that it should be allowed to acquire Bright House and TWC. It hopes the effort will prove more successful than Comcast's similar attempt to buy Time Warner Cable that ended in collapse earlier this year. (See Charter Seals Deals for TWC, Bright House and Comcast Formally Ends Its Bid for TWC.)
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading