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Cable Operators Have Deployed 32M CableCard Set-Tops

Through the end of 2011, the 10 largest U.S. cable operators have rolled out more than 32 million CableCard-enabled set-tops -- and just 554,000 standalone CableCard devices for use in TiVo digital video recorders and other devices, according to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

The NCTA provided the figures in its quarterly report on CableCards to the Federal Communications Commission. CableCards provide authentication and encryption to access cable TV programming; the cable industry originally designed the specification for third-party devices to comply with FCC regulations.

Under the FCC's "integration ban," which went into effect on July 1, 2007, operators are required to use CableCards in their own set-tops. The integrated set-top ban was supposed to foster better MSO support for retail devices that use CableCards. But the policy has not resulted in the FCC's hoped-for surge in sales among third-party cable-ready navigation devices.

The NCTA has argued that the integrated set-top ban should be eradicated, saying it adds cost to operators while serving no purpose.

Instead the FCC last year added new CableCard requirements, which include: ensuring access to switched digital video by retail devices; prohibiting box-price discrimination; requiring that consumers have the option of self-installing CableCards; providing subscribers with information on the cost of retail set-tops vs. leased boxes; making it easier to get retail devices to market by streamlining testing and certification; and allowing cable operators to provide basic HD boxes with integrated security functions.

The FCC is currently considering a successor to the CableCard regime. The new "AllVid" regulation would force all multichannel video programming distributors -- including satellite and telco TV providers -- to deliver video to third-party hardware devices using a common set of technical interfaces.