CEA is countering cable’s assertion that an FCC rule requiring cable operators to deploy only CableCARD-enabled set-tops after July 1, ’06 isn’t necessary. With the Commission on track to reassess the rule before year-end, filings from both sides have been furious in recent weeks. The ’06 rule is aimed at encouraging set-top/digital cable-ready TV availability at retail. But NCTA argues cable already has made a firm commitment to retail distribution channels, as evidenced by the MSO-CE plug & play deal. But the Consumer Electronics Assn argues the problems that exist with CableCARD/plug & play devices-problems still in place some 5 months after the cards hit the field-are because cable operators don’t have to rely on the CableCARD devices. "The cable industry’s good faith efforts have had to run counter to their own market imperatives because they need not rely on the technology that has been mandated for the benefit of others," CEA said last week in a filing. CEA says the unbalance means that design and field certification isn’t as much of a priority for cable as it is for operator-provided devices. It also has created a low volume of products, meaning the prices for the equipment haven’t gone down, CEA said. The assn countered NCTA’s stance that the ban would stymie the development of a low-cost digital set-top by arguing that the ability of products-ranging from TVs to DVRs-to "sport a common security interface, and to service legacy analog TVs at the same time, will more than make up for any residual cost saving by hardwiring proprietary, non-renewable security into navigation devices." — By the Numbers: While CEA argues that keeping the rule in place would help spur CableCARD development, things seem to be on an upswing. Operators have now deployed 5K CableCARDs-up from just 700 at the end of Aug (Cfax, 11/22). Largest MSO Comcast accounts for 2500 of those deployments. The increase is the result of the growing number of digital cable ready TVs that hit the market this fall.