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CableCARD Conundrums

Examples continue to pour in as to why most cable operators were smart in directing their three primary set-top suppliers -- Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Scientific Atlanta , and Pace Micro Technology -- to pre-mate CableCARDs with "host" boxes in the wake of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ban on digital set-tops with integrated security. (See Boxing Up 'Seven-Oh-Seven' .)

Among the latest to vent frustration is Tom Bridge, who blogs that it took four days, six phone calls, and two visits by his cable operator -- Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) in this case -- to get his CableCARD-enabled TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) HD-DVR up and running.

That's all? A contact of mine who has a TiVo Series3 DVR said it took at least six on-site tech visits to get things working properly.

I guess it's a good thing, then, that most of the separable security boxes being supplied to customers by MSOs directly are heading out the door with the module already inserted.

To keep operations as close to the pre-ban days as possible, and to discourage consumers from meddling with those pre-installed security modules and triggering unnecessary (and expensive) tech visits, the CableCARD slot on those boxes also tends to be covered with a faceplate that requires a screwdriver for removal.

Without these precautions, cable operators might go broke from the truckrolls alone.

Although one of the aims of the FCC ban is to open up a competitive retail set-top market, it's abundantly clear that plenty of time will pass before things get from here to there.

Of course, the CableCARD might be a dinosaur by then, anyway, if and when more elegant downloadable conditional access systems finally become reality for the U.S. cable industry. (See BBT Exits Alpha and PolyCipher Targets '08 Trials .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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