CableCard Tally: 17.8 Million Set-Tops And Counting
Operators Estimated to Have Spent Nearly $1 Billion Complying With FCC Rule
By Todd Spangler -- Multichannel News, 12/22/2009 4:58:58 PM
The 10 largest U.S. cable operators have deployed about 17.8 million leased set-tops with CableCards in the last two and a half years in compliance with the Federal Communications Commission's separable-security ban, at an estimated cost of nearly $1 billion.

That's according to the latest quarterly report on CableCards by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. Meanwhile, the same 10 MSOs have deployed 456,000 CableCards for use in retail devices, such as a TiVo DVRs or CableCard-ready TVs, through the end of November.

The FCC -- in an acknowledgement that the CableCard rules haven't achieved its policy goals -- has solicited input on how the commission could encourage broadband adoption as well as stimulate a market for retail navigation devices by ensuring set-tops could access both multichannel video programming and Internet video.

Subsequently several consumer-rights groups petitioned the FCC to scrap the CableCard provisions and adopt a "standards-based universal video gateway specification," which would serve as a "common bridge" among diverse pay-TV providers' services and consumer-video devices.

The Consumer Electronics Association -- which has accused the cable industry of dragging its feet on CableCard -- in comments filed Tuesday said the existing CableCard rules should be preserved. In addition, the trade group said the FCC should institute new rules mandating that all cable, satellite and telco providers use standardized gateways to allow third-party devices to access programming and guide information. The CEA's filing is here.

To date, the cable industry would have spent $994 million complying with the FCC separable-security rule, using an estimate from the agency's Media Bureau that a CableCard adds about $56 in cost to each set-top. The NCTA recently used that figure to estimate it had spent north of $935 million on 16.7 million CableCard-enabled set-tops through September.

The FCC's integrated set-top ban went into effect July 2007 but only for cable operators; satellite and IPTV providers have been exempt from the retail navigation device rules mandated by Congress for multichannel video programming distributors.

The separable-security rule is intended to improve the way CableCards work in third-party devices, by forcing cable operators to use the technology themselves, a principle referred to as "common reliance."