The drama continues as we roll closer and closer to the July 1st CableCARD deadline. Late last week the FCC granted waivers to Charter Communications, Millennium Telecom and General Communications Inc., giving those operators a much-desired reprieve from the requirement to ship only CableCARD-enabled set-tops in the second half of this year. The Charter waiver is a one-year extension of the deadline to July 1st 2008, while the other two operators have been granted conditional waivers which allow them to continue shipping specific low-end set-top models without CableCARD functionality.
So why does Charter get a waiver and not Comcast? First, the FCC is not interested in protecting the largest cable operator in the nation from what it believes is necessary to open up competition from retail CE devices. Second, Charter gets extra kudos for its significant rural presence where broadband is deemed critical to overall connectivity.
There are several implications worth considering out of both the recent waivers and the upcoming July 1st deadline. Specific smaller operators have considerable motivation now to try out downloadable security (precursor technology to DCAS) given the extra time allowed by the FCC’s waivers. Potentially these operators could avoid dealing with CableCARD altogether (their distinct preference) and fashion themselves part of the avant-garde of separable security.
In the meantime, Comcast and many others will move completely to CableCARD set-tops, which just might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in the barely-restrained battle between the FCC and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA). (I think I mixed my metaphors there…) Multichannel News has a long and fascinating article detailing this two-year standoff, but doesn’t offer any crystal-ball look at how it might play out during the rest of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s term in office.
Finally, it’s worth noting that once the July 1st deadline hits, we’re going to have to start looking beyond the industry machinations to how this integration ban affects consumers. Will operators raise their cable fees to cover CableCARD costs? Will the change and potential cost increases impact migration to digital cable?
More interesting plot twists to come. Possibly as soon as this week at The Cable Show.