Verizon Bites CableCard Bullet

Verizon Communications will join the CableCard set-top club on July 1.

That’s when the telco will be required by the Federal Communications Commission to deploy advanced set-top boxes for FiOS TV—those with high-definition and digital video recording features—with separable security components.

“We have a separable CableCard-based solution and we’re on track to meet the FCC requirement,” Verizon media relations director Bobbi Henson said.

Motorola, Verizon’s set-top supplier, worked up two new set-tops that fit the bill: The QIP7100 HD (which will replace the QIP6200) and the QIP7216 HD DVR (replacing the QIP6416).

The new FiOS TV boxes, based on the Motorola DCX cable set-top design, provide more processing power than the previous models and support MPEG-4 video, said Evan Groat, Motorola’s director of product management for hybrid set-top boxes.

“It’s basically the same exercise the cable industry went through to put a CableCard in the boxes,” Groat said. “The challenge was to update the technology on the new platform and do it in a pretty short time frame.”

The FCC forced most cable operators to use only CableCard-based set-tops as of July 1, 2007. Through mid-March, the top 10 cable operators had deployed 4.18 million set-top boxes with CableCards, while they had supplied just 347,000 standalone CableCards to subscribers for use with TiVos and other third-party devices.

Verizon and other telco TV providers got another year to comply with the so-called “integration ban” because, the FCC said in its June 29 order, “It is our understanding set-top box manufacturers have not developed any nonintegrated HD or DVR devices” for IPTV or hybrid cable/IP systems like FiOS TV, which uses coaxial cable to deliver linear channels and IP for interactive services.

Verizon had appealed for a waiver to the integrated set-top ban in 2006, arguing that requiring separable security for the hybrid set-top boxes from Motorola “would be extremely burdensome” and costly because of “the lack of standards for Verizon’s hybrid QAM/IP approach.”

In a letter to the FCC in July 2007, Comcast attorney Jonathan Friedman called Verizon’s claim that it could not technically comply with the separable-security mandate “preposterous.”

“Verizon is an enormous competitor ... [it] knew full well what its obligations were under the commission’s rules and has proven itself perfectly capable of controlling the design and development of equipment used in its FiOS TV network,” Friedman wrote.

The FCC’s one-year extension is up, and Verizon now must use CableCards in its HD and DVR set-tops.

Unlike many cable operators, though, Verizon is still allowed to use standard-def set-tops with integrated security features until December 2009. That’s because it pledged to the FCC to eliminate analog TV channels by next February.

Verizon offers the Motorola QIP2500 standard-definition set-top and the DCT700 low-end box, which the telco has used to convert to all-digital operation inNew York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and other markets.