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Video services

FCC Believes in Evolution-ary DTAs

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) , not the cable industry, has evidently become the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's new favorite punching bag.

Just days after the FCC granted a first-ever waiver for high-definition-capable digital boxes with integrated security to Cable One Inc. , the Commission today awarded another biggie to Evolution Broadband LLC for two models of digital terminal adapters (DTAs), which are simple, one-way digital-to-analog converter boxes that cost less than $50 each. (See Cable ONE Snares HD Set-Top Waiver .)

The CEA vehemently opposed both requests, holding that such waivers would undermine the deployment and use of digital TVs and set-tops that separate security via CableCARD slots and modules.

Evolution filed the waiver petition in May 2008 for those DTAs -- the DMS-1002 and the DMS-1002-CA -- with the hope that it could then sell them to small and mid-sized operators that were looking to collapse their analog tiers and free up headroom for high-definition television and other digital cable services without having to shell out big bucks for more expensive CableCARD-based set-tops.

Colorado-based Evolution sought the waiver so its MSO customers would not have to obtain them separately on their own, claiming the waivers would serve the public interest because they would give generally more cash-strapped, smaller operators a way to go all-digital cost-effectively. (See Evolution Thinks Small .)

The rub is that Evolution was seeking a three-year waiver for a DTA that embeds security (the Conax AS conditional access system, in this case), something that the FCC's integration ban forbids (unless a waiver is granted) under a mandate that took effect in July 2007. (See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven' and Verizon & Others Get Their Waivers.)

The new waiver could have a big effect on how smaller cable MSOs pursue their all-digital strategies and spawn digital services to combat satellite TV competition.

Evolution has already revealed that four operators -- Massillon Cable TV Inc. , Comporium Communications , TVMax , and Zito Media -- are using the vendor's DTAs as part of their respective analog-reclamation programs. A company spokeswoman says Evolution has other DTA deals that haven't been announced. (See Comporium Tests Positive for DTAs.)

Despite CEA opposition, the Commission sided with Evolution, believing that the availability of low-cost boxes will help operators migrate to all-digital and reuse spectrum toward new services like hi-def.

The FCC, as it held in the recent Cable ONE order, said establishing a competitive market for cable boxes "should not displace a low-cost set-top box option" for cable TV subscribers. "It is critical to the DTV transition that consumers have access to inexpensive digital set-top boxes that will permit the viewing of digital programming on analog television sets both during and after the transition," the Commission added.

The FCC warned, however, that it likely won't give waivers to set-tops with DVRs on board, or boxes with broadband connections, multiple tuners, or HD capabilities. But it's evidently open to suggestion when it comes to the last item on that list, considering the condition of the waiver just awarded to Cable ONE.

Still, the FCC said it's inclined to believe that more advanced cable devices will rely on removable CableCARD security.

Evolution, meanwhile, does have some aspirations centered on the CableCARD. It's been trying to obtain approval from CableLabs for a CableCARD of its own that uses the Conax conditional access system. (See First Look: Evolution's CableCARD and Evolution Preps New CableCARD.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News




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