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TWC Test Drives Tuning Adapters

Some Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) customers who use CableCARDs in one-way digital TVs and some standalone TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) boxes are about to learn how the two-way world rolls with switched digital video (SDV).

The MSO, considered a champion of SDV technology, says it has begun to test Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)-made tuning adapters in Austin, Texas, and anticipates a wider rollout to start sometime in December.

As designed, the Tuning Adapter allows cable customers who use inherently one-way CableCARD-capable devices to access channels that are delivered via an operator's switched tier. Although targeted advertising is considered a long-term application for SDV, most operators are applying the technique today in order to use their existing bandwidth more efficiently. (See NCTA Sees Solution to Switching Snag and CableLabs Stamps SDV Tuning Adapters .)

Cisco has developed a tuning adapter called the STA-1520, while Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) offers one called the MTR700. (See Cisco Intros SDV Tuning Adapter .) Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is already offering the Cisco Tuning Adapter to customers in Cherry Hill, N.J. (See Comcast Tunes Up SDV Tuning Adapters .)

Following the test, Time Warner Cable plans to make the adapters available in other markets where it has launched SDV.

Time Warner Cable already has SDV live in roughly half of its divisions. In addition to Austin, some other markets with SDV lit up include Albany and Binghamton, N.Y.; Columbia, S.C.; Green Bay and Milwaukee, Wis.; Greensboro, N.C.; Kansas City, Mo.; and the Oceanic division in Hawaii. (See SDV Deployment Snapshot II .)

A Time Warner Cable spokesman confirmed that the operator will offer tuning adapters for free to effected customers. The MSO has set up a special Website that enables customers to find out when the equipment is available in their markets.

The tuning adapters can't arrive too soon, particularly for Time Warner Cable, which has already been hit by a trio of SDV-related fines by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) . One was for allegedly failing to give the local franchise authorities in Hawaii adequate notice that some channels were being moved to a switched tier. The FCC also held that the MSO, in Kauai and Oahu, "willfully" prevented some unidirectional CableCARD-based devices from accessing channels that were moved to a switched tier, and for failing to provide those devices with the appropriate "virtual channel tables." (See FCC Dings TWC Over SDV and FCC Levies More SDV-Related Fines .)

Although tuning adapters were expected to show up earlier this year, they are just now starting to trickle out to MSOs. According to one cable operator insider, the tuning adapters are subject to 30- to 60-day order-to-shipment windows that are typically seen with other types of set-top orders.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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