CableCARDs are coming-but their cost and availability to consumers has CEA antsy. "What we’ve overheard wasn’t overwhelming support for these cards," CEA says. At a House Commerce hearing last week, CEA pres Gary Shapiro said he’d heard reports the cards may be priced unreasonably. Operators we’ve spoken with plan to offer the cards for substantially less than the rental price of a digital set-top. Time Warner plans to charge $1.75/month, and Charter’s [CHTR] already notified LFAs of a $1.50/month fee. Insight’s [ICCI] price will be $1.99/month vs $7.95/month it charges for a digital box. Insight subs who order its HD/DVR set-top for $12.95/month can get a free cable card, which would allow them to watch another channel while recording something off the DVR (currently that’s not possible with its single tuner Motorola box). Mediacom and Adelphia are finalizing their fees and rollouts, but both plan to charge less than they do for a set-top. Comcast [CMCSA] said it won’t be charging a fee for the CableCARDs in most markets, which is consistent with its policy not to charge a separate fee for digital set-tops. Additionally, NCTA notes that the industry considers the cards customer premise equipment, making them subject to FCC rate regulation. CEA acknowledges it’s too early to tell what will happen with the plug & play sets, but it plans to monitor the situation closely to make sure there are no problems. Cable operators insist they are committed to providing and installing the CableCARDS, which will enable 1-way plug & play sets come July 1. Just yesterday, CableLabs announced verification for products from 4 new DTV manufacturers, Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America, Philips Consumer Electronics, Thomson and an unnamed manufacturer. That brings the total number of manufacturers building 1-way, CableCARD-enabled DTVs to 9. "We’re anticipating that these new HDTVs … will be one of the hot new consumer products this holiday season," CableLABs CEO Dick Green says.

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