The American Cable Association is supporting the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to allow small cable operators to deploy inexpensive, HD-capable set-top boxes under a policy framework that seeks to speed cable’s migration of channels from analog to digital format and advance the goal of faster broadband download speeds for consumers in deeply rural communities in the country.
 
The FCC has tentatively concluded that all cable operators should be allowed to offer consumers integrated HD-capable set-tops in lieu of similar CableCARD boxes, which can be six to eight times as expensive to purchase at wholesale as boxes with integrated security and channel selection features. Alternatively, the FCC has indicated it might limit relief just to cable systems with 550 MHz of capacity or less.
 
The FCC is expected to vote on new policies later in the year.
 
In comments filed this week, ACA stressed that reliance on HD-capable boxes costing about $50 each would be a more affordable option for cable operators and consumers. ACA noted that if the FCC provided greater flexibility from existing policy of near-exclusive reliance on CableCARD boxes, it would not have an impact on the sale of set-top boxes at the consumer retail level. This is so because no retail market for low-functionality set-top boxes exists.
 
ACA explained that integrated HD-boxes meeting a potential FCC CableCARD waiver standard would not compete with advanced CableCARD-enabled devices sold at retail. Firms like TiVo and Moxi offer consumers high-functionality devices equipped with DVR service and access to an array of Web-based content, including movie services, photo diaries and video clips. These advanced boxes sold at retail are far more expensive and sophisticated than any of the streamlined HD-boxes contemplated for an exemption under the FCC’s CableCARD rules, and thus wouldn’t impact consumer interest in the high-functionality boxes available at retail outlets.

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