TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Sunday Begins New Era For Cable Subscribers

Sunday Begins New Era For Cable Subscribers

Monty Solomon (
Fri, 29 Jun 2007 18:35:05 -0400

By David Lieberman, USA TODAY

NEW YORK - The summer's just started, yet cable operators are already
drenched in sweat.

They are bracing for a deadline they staved off for more than a decade
-- one that could bring a wave of new TV viewing options for many of
the 65.6 million homes connected to cable.

A Federal Communications Commission order taking effect on Sunday
requires all major cable operators to give up the conventional cable
boxes they so profitably lease to subscribers. These proprietary boxes
contain technology for functions such as video-on-demand and perhaps a
digital video recorder -- and also house the operator's decoder that
unscrambles digital, premium and HDTV channels.

All big operators now will have to provide a standard external decoder
called a CableCard that plugs into their box -- or into equipment from
any company. Customers could ditch the operator's box and get their
channels via a TV, DVR, computer or other device built for CableCards.

Nothing has to change for the 58% of cable subscribers with the old
boxes. The FCC rule applies only to new installations or upgrades.

The FCC was ordered in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to help
electronics companies compete with the cable guys' leased boxes on the
theory that lower prices and more choices of equipment and features
would result. It took until 2003 for the cable industry to agree on a
decoder, the CableCard, but it was able to fend off an FCC mandate
until now. Electronics makers say the order will spur a new generation
of devices and features.

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