Charter asks for FCC waiver for next-gen network upgrade
Michelle Clancy | 05-11-2012
U.S. cable MSO Charter Communications has applied for a two-year waiver on the FCC ban on integrated security in set-top boxes, to facilitate its next-generation network upgrade. Charter is looking to roll out an open-standard, downloadable security solution that supports third-party retail devices.
CEO Tom Rutledge has vowed to make a timely transition to a next-generation network across its footprint, to offer entry-level Internet service with download speeds of 30 Mbps to 100 Mbps, unlimited cloud storage and all-digital video transport.
A key component of the campaign is the launch of software-based downloadable security. Rutledge has experience with the technology: He previously led Cablevision's successful deployment of downloadable security in 2009-2010.
"Now Mr. Rutledge would like to do the same for Charter," the company said in its FCC petition. "But this undertaking will be much more difficult for Charter than it was for Cablevision. Cablevision's downloadable security deployment was located entirely in the New York City metropolitan area, with only a few tightly-clustered headends passing millions of homes."
By contrast, Charter has more than 190 headends in twenty-five states, which pass a median of 23,000 homes. Seventy-five percent of Charter's subscribers live outside of the nation's twenty largest DMAs. So, the implementation of downloadable security across Charter's much larger, scattered and more diverse footprint will be more expensive, time-consuming and challenging than it was in Cablevision's case, the company said: "Although Charter operates some large systems, it continues to have a distinctly rural footprint with far fewer subscribers per headend than its peers with which to cover the costs of this upgrade."
The requirements will be myriad: Charter will need to deploy new security servers to support downloadable security set-top boxes in each headend; have new set-top boxes with new downloadable chipsets in them deployed in the field for the servers to talk to; and get the servers and headends working together in tandem, fine-tuned and ready for the whole architecture to work with the new security system before it cuts the new boxes over to downloadable security.
Charter also said that the transition will be good for consumers, because downloadable security will mean that the company can select lower-cost set-tops from a broad set of suppliers. That will "lower equipment costs borne by consumers, open the doors to a wider variety of devices and features, and facilitate a more efficient transition to an all-digital network by reducing the costs for terminal equipment needed to support consumers through that transition," the company said.