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Mediacom Wants FCC Digital Waiver For Rural Systems

Mediacom Communications filed a request with the Federal Communications Commission seeking an “emergency” waiver to the agency’s integrated set-top ban for cable systems in small, rural communities that it promises to upgrade to all-digital operation before Feb. 17, 2009.

The operator said the systems for which it is seeking a waiver serve less than 9% of its1.3 million subscribers. Under an FCC rule that went into effect July 1, most cable operators are required to deploy only set-top boxes that have removable CableCards for handling security functions.

Mediacom said it is currently complying with the integrated set-top ban. However, the company said, without a waiver, it may be forced to shut down some “isolated” systems.

“The waiver will enable Mediacom to implement an all-digital service in systems that, due to their technical, competitive and regulatory circumstances, could not otherwise be upgraded in a timely, economically feasible fashion and, indeed, might in some instances have to cease operations,” Mediacom wrote in its Jan. 18 waiver request.

The FCC has granted waivers to some cable operators and other video providers, including Verizon, that pledged to eliminate analog services by Feb. 17, 2009, the date by which local TV broadcasters are required to cease their own analog transmissions.

In an e-mail, Mediacom vice president of legal affairs Thomas J. Larsen said the operator has not made a final determination about “which systems we would take all-digital prior to February 2009.” He said the systems for which Mediacom is requesting a set-top waiver all have less than 552 MHz in spectrum.

Mediacom said it “could not reasonably expect a sufficient return on investment” to upgrade the cable plant in its smaller, rural systems. The most cost-effective approach to freeing up bandwidth in those areas is to eliminate analog TV channels, Mediacom said, but only if it can deploy lower-cost Motorola DCT700 and DCT2000 set-top boxes that have embedded security functions.

In its filing with the FCC, the company said the systems under consideration average about 2,600 subscribers each and have a median size of 1,637. Only two have more than 10,000 subscribers, both of which have fewer than 15,000.

If the FCC grants the request, Mediacom said it would notify subscribers within 60 days of the transition to an all-digital network.