Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'
Cox, unlike more than a dozen other operators, did not file a waiver request with the FCC.
"We've always planned to comply with the mandate," says Chris Kocks, project manager for Cox's strategy and development group. "Cox has always wanted to support the mandate and do the right thing."
Cox, he says, also expects to see the bulk of consumer demand gravitate toward high-end set-tops, thus removing one reason to request waivers on entry-level devices with integrated security.
And Cox is making progress ahead of the deadline. Kocks says the MSO is already conducting trials with employees, and it expects to start rolling out CableCARD-based set-tops in all systems ahead of the deadline.
Although Cox will receive CableCARD hosts with the card already installed, several other modifications must also take place. Kocks estimates that at least 10 components must be upgraded to support the CableCARD.
"It adds some minor wrinkles, but from an operational standpoint it's pretty much the same," he says. In terms of eliminating the operational impact of the deadline, "we are 98 percent of the way there."
Still, Kocks notes, preparing and testing against all of the various application combinations has been a "monumental feat" for Cox, which is fairly split on Motorola and SA.
Despite having fewer resources than larger MSOs such as Cox and Charter, Bresnan Communications, like other smaller operators, must also be ready by the FCC-mandated deadline.
These days, the MSO is running tests to ensure that host boxes equipped with CableCARDs will work properly on Bresnan's networks, according to Sean O'Donnell, the regional vice president and general manager for the MSO's Montana operations.
Overall, Bresnan serves about 300,000 customers in parts of Colo., Mont., Wyo., and Utah.
At the same time, the company has been actively managing its inventory to ensure that all set-tops with integrated security are deployed to the field before the deadline. Also, any "churn" boxes (i.e., set-tops returned to Bresnan by customers when they move or otherwise disconnect service) are being set aside as "grandfathered" devices, since the operator will still be able to deploy those units after the deadline.
Those efforts "are well in progress," O'Donnell says. "We should be able to meet the deadline for anything new."
On the digital video front, Bresnan is primarily a Motorola shop, though it does offer HD-DVRs from Pace Micro that use the Motorola conditional access system.
Bresnan, he says, has some concerns about whether set-top vendors will be able to keep up with the coming demand for CableCARD host devices.
"That's the million dollar question. We hope so." O'Donnell notes. He also says Bresnan recognizes that larger operators will likely be the ones to get the first boxes off the production line.
Still, he says Bresnan is "confident" it will meet all requirements at the deadline and have the technology and inventory in place in time to be ready for compliance.
"It's all part of our planning as we work toward July 1," he says.
Policing the Mandate
It will be near impossible for the FCC to police who is in or out of compliance. Operators realize they will be on what amounts to a self-policing honor system. But they are expected to be able to provide proof should the FCC come calling.
Kocks of Cox Communications says the MSO is working with its systems to ensure it can prepare and produce reports that demonstrate compliance.
"It's self governed, but the FCC can check on compliance," says Fawaz of Charter. "We are taking it seriously."
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News
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