Top 10 MSOs Have Rolled Almost 20 Million CableCard Set-Tops: NCTA

The 10 biggest cable operators have now deployed nearly 20 million set-tops with CableCards -- versus just 489,000 CableCards for standalone devices -- and the Federal Communications Commission is proposing to impose stricter guidelines for the industry to try to increase consumer adoption of the standalone devices.

The figures, provided by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association in a notice filed Wednesday with the FCC, indicate that less than 2.5% of cable customers have opted to use CableCards in a standalone device, such as a TiVo DVR.

Since the FCC's so-called "integration ban" went into effect on July 1, 2007, the top 10 MSOs have put into service more than 19.5 million operator-supplied set-top boxes with CableCards. Those cable operators serve approximately 90% of the cable subscribers in the country.

The FCC, as part of the national broadband plan released last month, recommended that the agency adopt rules for cable operators by the fall of 2010 "to fix certain CableCard issues" while it works with industry to develop an Internet-based video gateway that all pay-television providers would be required to provide to subscribers.

For the FCC to double-down on CableCards at this point is to "dwell on issues that are increasingly stale and, more important, increasingly irrelevant to the marketplace of today, let alone tomorrow," NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow said in a statement.

The commission has proposed a notice of proposed rulemaking concerning the changes to CableCard rules for its April 21 open meeting.

The FCC's four proposed changes to CableCard rules would require cable operators to: ensure equal access to linear channels for retail and operator-leased CableCard devices in cable systems with switched digital video; establish "transparent pricing" for CableCards and operator-leased set-top boxes; standardize installation policies for retail and operator-leased CableCard devices; and streamline and accelerate the certification process for retail CableCard devices.

The FCC requirement that operators use CableCards in their own set-top boxes is intended to make CableCards function better in third-party CE devices, by mandating "common reliance" on the technology.