An accident spells trouble on many levels. An employee suffers, service is potentially disrupted, and costs mount. Accidents have been part of cable from the start. The cowboys who founded this industry took risks in climbing poles, lifting equipment, and stringing cable next to power lines. How well the industry has minimized such risks through standard and government-mandated practices is an open question. But safety awareness may be on the rise. Alert readers Several photos we published earlier this year, for instance, betrayed a few safety lapses and brought a flurry of responses. "In my few years in this industry, I will admit that I have been known as a bit of a ‘Safety Nut,’ wrote one. But this technical supervisor for a major MSO went on to lament the persistence of risky behavior: "We have for so long been of the mindset, albeit subconsciously, that safety is something that can be compromised …. We all took safety shortcuts when we were in the field because that’s what our senior peers did. These things slip through the cracks until someone gets fired or, even worse, injured or dead." "Someone has to take a stand," he continued, "no matter how unpopular." As this tech supervisor noted, safety doesn’t just happen. It means making related activities a budget line item, and as another correspondent noted, realizing the tradeoff between safety and speed. More indicators On the other hand, evidence exists that the industry is taking these concerns to heart. Among the many categories of Comcast’s final CommTech Cable Jeopardy event earlier this year were several that were safety related, including: "Fire Marshall Bill," "By the Book," and "Safety Is as Safety Does." Under that last heading, contestants were asked how best to carry a ladder on a windy day and what four situations call for the five-point safety harness. (Answers below.) As for whether safe practices are themselves rising, this year’s SCTE Safety Awards program recognized 25 percent and 20 percent increases in the number of gold and silver award recipients, respectively, over last year. The awards are based on Occupational Safety and Health Administration recordable incident rates, with gold winners reporting incidents at 50 percent below the industry’s national rate or better, and silver winners at 25 percent below or better. (See sidebar for gold winners.) Nominations to SCTE’s safety awards subcommittee for next year’s program are due March 1, 2006. Winning, of course, requires a workforce that is safety-minded today and everyday. –Jonathan Tombes Answers: 1) horizontal hip; 2) aerial lift operations, permit-required confined space operations, tower climbing, pole climbing trainees Safety Sidebar
Gold Level Winners
Alexander City, Ala.
Columbia, Tenn.
Denton, Texas
Fond du Lac, Wis.
Hickory, N.C.
Jasper, Ala.
Malibu, Calif.
Medford, Ore.
Parkersburg, W.Va.
Radford, Va.
San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Scott Depot, W.Va.
Tullahoma, Tenn.
Victorville, Calif.
Wenatchee, Wash.
Worcester, Mass. Comcast
Albuquerque, N.M.
Alexandria, Va.
Bad Axe, Minn.
City of Chicago, Ill.
Denver, Colo.
Indianapolis, Ind.
Knoxville, Tenn.
Lawrence, Kan.
Lebanon, Pa.
Manitowoc, Wis.
New Mexico, South
Philadelphia, Area 3/4
Prince William, Va.
Rehoboth, Del.
Cherry Hill, N.J.
Washington, D.C.
West Michigan

Baton Rouge, La.
Call Center San Diego
Central Kansas
Central SE, Arkansas
Coffeyville, Kan.
Dodge City, Kan.
El Dorado/Augusta, Kan.
Enid, Okla.
Garden City, Kan.
Gonzales Service Center, La.
Great Bend, Kan.
Hutchinson, Kan.
Iola, Kan.
Junction City, Kan.
Kansas Call Center
Lubbock, Texas
Manhattan, Kan.
Midland, Texas
Muskogee, Okla.
NE Arkansas
Newton, Kan.
N Arkansas
N Louisiana
NW Texas
NE Kansas Region
NW Arkansas
Okla City Call Center
Orange County, Calif.
Palos Verdes, Calif.
Pittsburg, Kan.
Pratt/Larned/Lyons, Kan.
Salina, Kan.
SW Arkansas
SW Texas
Stillwater, Okla.
Topeka, Kan.
Tulsa Call Center, Texas
W Texas Call Center
W Kansas Region
Wichita Region, Kan. Seren Innovations
Concord, Calif. Sunflower Broadband
Lawrence, Kan. A Revolution in the Making The industry’s conditional access (CA) technologies are in transition. Playing the 800-pound gorilla is the Federal Communications Commission, which is requiring the move from hardwired CA systems in set-top boxes to downloadable security. The FCC held a mid-summer meeting to review progress on this matter. (The Commission’s Order of March 17 requires the cable industry to submit a report on or before Dec. 1.) According to an Ex Parte Notice filed by Willkie Farr & Gallagher, two top Comcast executives presented at the meeting: EVP and CTO David Fellows, and SVP of Strategic Planning Mark Coblitz. The vendor side included Tony Wasilewski, chief scientist, subscriber networks, Scientific-Atlanta; Geoff Roman, corporate VP and director of strategy and business development, Motorola; Annie Chen, senior director, engineering, Motorola; and Phillippe Stransky, CTO, Nagravision. Not in attendance, but linked to Motorola via a recent partnership, is Widevine Technologies, which has deployed its software-based Cypher Virtual SmartCard for the past three years with telcos. Widevine’s SmartCard goes into set-top boxes and, with a headend system, provides access and digital rights management. "The industry is in a bit of an upheaval from a content security perspective," said Matt Cannard, Widevine’s vice president of marketing. "You have the traditional vendors out there who are able to provide physical-based smart cards for cable operators, telcos and satellite operators, but now you have the regulatory mandates from the FCC that are saying you must open it up, and not only that, you must also use separable, renewable software-based security." "This is also coming from the content owners themselves, the studios and broadcasters, who are saying, ‘you must provide a reasonable level of content security in order to get licensed content from us.’" The Comcast-Motorola $1 billion set-top deal announced earlier this year will create two joint ventures that deal with CA technologies and also help break the duopoly logjam by letting Comcast license Motorola’s MediaCipher technology to third parties and other U.S. cable operators. Momentum building Widevine already has a partnership in place with Motorola to develop a software-based CA platform for Internet protocol TV (IPTV) set-top boxes on the telco side and is pursuing a similar partnership for cable. Regulatory nudging aside, cable operators are interested in software-based technologies that could reduce costs. "We are in trials with some of the major cable operators in the United States, and we’re also partnering with Motorola," said Cannard. "S-A has definitely approached us for the iTV (interactive TV) video component, and they are looking for ways in which they can open up their traditional cable system to provide an open architecture that accommodates different kinds of content systems in it." –Mike Robuck (adapted from CT’s Video Report)

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