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HD No Longer an 'Advanced' Service?

Jeff Baumgartner
7/30/2008

3:25 PM -- According to Cable One Inc., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should consider resetting its view about which set-tops and converter boxes should be allowed special "waivers," and extend that privilege to some simple, one-way devices capable of also feeding through high-definition television (HDTV) signals.

The argument comes roughly a year after the FCC's set-top integration ban went into effect on July 1, 2007. (See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.)

Cable One, in comments filed in support of a three-year waiver being sought by Evolution Broadband LLC , a distributor of bare-bones, one-way digital terminal adapters (DTAs), said the U.S. regulatory agency should also take the opportunity to "update the 'low-cost, limited capability' standard to encompass low-cost basic one-way converters that are capable of delivering high definition... services to consumers."

And why's that? "HD can no longer reasonably be considered an 'advanced' service -- it is an integral part of the television-viewing experience and expectations of any consumer that has recently purchased a television or that is likely to make such a purchase going forward," said the MSO, which originally filed the comments on June 23, but didn't appear electronically in the FCC docket until last Friday (July 25).

Aside from a debate about whether or not HD is an "advanced" service, there are other technical and economic reasons why this particular operator is pushing hard for this.

Cable One, an MSO that serves about 700,000 basic subs in largely rural parts of the country, notes that about 60 percent of its systems are served by 550 MHz plant, so it doesn't have a lot of headroom to offer gobs of HD without going all-digital. It also argues that it (and its customers) can't afford a $250 million plant upgrade to 750 MHz or more.

Plus it generally doesn't offer two-way video services, such as video-on-demand. To remedy that, Cable One wants to obtain a waiver allowing the deployment of simple, inexpensive one-way devices that are also capable of doing HD. While Evolution's current generation DTAs would do the trick for converting standard-definition digital signals, they don't do squat for HD.

Cable One is also holding that it doesn't have $495 million burning a hole in its pocket to do a traditional digital cut-over using digital boxes equipped with CableCARDs, noting that the presently available HD-capable box that steers clear of the FCC's integration ban is priced at $300 to $400 per unit.

The kicker here is that Evolution has informed Cable One that the vendor can produce and bring to market by year-end a "basic, one-way HD-capable set-top" priced below $80 per unit, and in the quantities required by Cable One and other MSOs.

Given how rapidly the FCC has historically acted on waiver requests, don't expect a quick answer to this one. Complicating matters is the fact that the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is already opposing Evolution Broadband's original request for two standard-def DTA models, so chances are slim that the FCC will give a quick green light to an HD version. But we'll keep our eyes on this one.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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