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News summary for 10/12/07

Fri, 10/12/2007 - 8:35am
CED staff

Comcast enters next phase of TiVo roll-out
By Mike Robuck

Comcast is inching closer to a full-scale commercial roll-out of TiVo’s digital video recording technology in its deployed set-top boxes with the recent news that some boxes in the New England division have received software downloads.

Over the past few days, Comcast customers in the New England division have been getting the TiVo DVR software downloaded into their Motorola dual-tuner DVR set-top boxes. This phase is the next step in Comcast’s beta testing, which currently includes a limited number of customers who may be receiving the service for free as part of the trial.

The downloads give customers a TiVo interface instead of Comcast’s own GuideWorks interface.

Comcast is using its TV Navigator, which was developed by TVWorks, to download the TiVo software into the boxes. TVWorks is jointly owned by Cox and Comcast after the two companies bought up Liberate. Both Cox and Comcast are using a subset of the OCAP Java APIs as a bridge to OCAP deployments, and in an effort to deploy interactive services in the legacy set-top boxes. Cox calls its version of the TVWorks technology On Ramp, while Comcast uses the term TV Navigator.

Comcast is using TV Navigator with TiVo in an effort to have a common software platform in as many set-top boxes as possible.

Comcast has been working on deploying TiVo’s software in its footprint for the past two years. A Comcast spokeswoman said that commercial roll-outs are expected to continue throughout parts of New England this fall, but Comcast hasn’t given a timeline for a full-scale commercial deployment.

TiVo was an earlier pioneer in the DVR field, but has struggled as other companies, including Comcast, have launched their own DVR services. Hitching its fortunes to Comcast is one way TiVo hopes to improve its fortunes.

Marco Island Cable selects GoBackTV for IPTV
By Brian Santo

Marco Island Cable in Florida has concluded a field-trial of multicast cable IPTV using the GoBackTV CMTS-bypass system and has decided to go with a commercial deployment using GoBackTV’s equipment.

During the trial, variable bit rate (VBR) video on multiple QAM channels was delivered to participants' television sets via off-the-shelf IP set-top boxes connected to standard DOCSIS 2.0 cable modems.

“We were impressed by the capabilities and affordability of the GoBackTV system,” said Bill Gaston, president of Marco Island Cable. “It gives us the flexibility to tailor specialty service offerings for both our year-round subscribers as well as our seasonal subscribers, many of whom are vacationers from abroad.”

By using a Cable IPTV overlay of existing services, Marco Island Cable plans to use MPEG-4 IP set-top boxes as well as leverage GoBackTV’s switched digital video support. In the first deployment stage, GoBackTV IP Streamers will be used to bring off-air digital channels to Marco Island via leased line from nearby Ft. Myers.

Willner chairman, Miron vice chair for The Cable Center’s board
By Mike Robuck

The Cable Center announced that its board of directors elected Insight Communications CEO Michael Willner as its new chairman, while Advance/Newhouse CEO Bob Miron is the vice chairman. Willner and Miron started their new roles yesterday after former chairman Bill Bresnan passed the gavel over to Willner at The Cable Center’s annual board meeting. Bresnan will stay on the board’s executive committee.

"I am honored to be selected as The Cable Center's chairman of the board, and to follow Bill Bresnan's effective stewardship," said Willner. "We have a highly experienced and talented group of industry leaders on the board, and The Cable Center is healthy and moving steadily forward with its goals.  I am eager to begin working with both the Board and The Cable Center staff to accomplish the many exciting plans that are underway, and to further the reach of its exceptional programs."

The board also elected Bridget L. Baker, president, Television Networks Distribution, NBC Universal; Matthew C. Blank, chairman and CEO, Showtime Networks; and Andrew T. Heller, president, domestic distribution, Turner Broadcasting Inc. to the board during the annual meeting.

Charter has deal to sell services in Wal-Mart stores
By Tim Logan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)

Charter Communications took a big step toward enlarging its retail footprint Thursday, announcing a deal with the biggest retailer of them all.

The Town and Country-based cable provider will sell its cable, Internet and telephone services in more than 700 Wal-Mart stores covering most of its 29-state service area. The move will more than triple the number of retail locations where consumers can buy Charter services.

Like other cable providers, Charter has been beefing up its retail presence in recent months, girding for growing competition from companies like Verizon and AT&T that sell similar bundles of landline products and have vast retail networks for their wireless divisions.

Charter has few stand-alone storefronts. Most of its retail outlets are in big-box stores that sell electronics, such as Circuit City, Best Buy and now, Wal-Mart. Typically, the idea is to sell a customer cable or Internet when they buy a TV or computer.

"We are now at the decision point, where people are making those consumer electronics decisions," said Jeff Cox, Charter's vice president for sales channels. "What it really allows consumers to do is compare and ask questions."

Charter's competitors, mainly satellite TV providers, have had similar retail setups for some time. Now the cable company will be on the shelf, too.

It won't have staffers full time in Wal-Mart - that company's employees will be selling the services - but it can hold promotions and special events there. In particular, Charter is hoping to sell the phone-Internet-cable bundled package and high-definition programming with the high-definition TV sets that Wal-Mart sells.

AT&T granted limited relief on business broadband regulation
Copyright 2007 World Markets Research Limited
Seth Wallis-Jones, World Markets Research Centre

AT&T has been granted forbearance from a limited set of regulatory requirements for its business broadband services, allowing it greater flexibility in setting prices for business broadband services.

AT&T has been granted forbearance on rules governing the setting of tariffs for a wide range of broadband and optical networking services that target businesses. The giant had sought relief from Title II of the Communications Act and the Computer Inquiry rules on these services.

Forbearance has been allowed on a number of regulatory requirements that make pricing and service flexibility more difficult for those dominant incumbent operators deemed to have "individual market power" - analogous to the concept of "Significant Market Power" used by European Union (EU) regulators. Democrat Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein voted against the motion while Republican Robert McDowell, who was widely seen as a possible opponent, voted for the motion for limited forbearance to pass it 3-2.

There are several requirements on dominant Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILECs) or Bell Operating Companies (BOCs), to which Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs) are not subject. These include the requirement to file tariffs as a dominant carrier with seven or 15 days' notice with supporting data, in contrast with the non-dominant carriers, which are both not subject to rate regulation and are able to file with one day's notice (when services are not subject to cost support).

Discontinuance, reduction or impairment of a service is also more tightly regulated for dominant carriers, requiring a 60-day waiting period, compared with a 31-day waiting period for non-dominant carriers. The domestic transfer of control requirements is also more stringent for dominant carriers, although AT&T will now not have to meet these requirements.

The Computer Inquiry rules have also evolved from relating to the provision of 'enhanced services'. These have moved from requirements for structural separation - as are currently being considered by the EU - to allowing non-structural safeguards such as Comparably Efficient Interconnection (CEI) or Open Network Architecture (ONA), which ensures an unbundled network architecture is available to competitors.

AT&T is now forborne from the Computer Inquiry rules relating to the bundling of services and structural separation of ONA and CEI, although non-discriminatory access is still required for the provision of enhanced services:

The tariffing and pricing regulation of Frame Relay Services, ATM Services, LAN Services, Ethernet-Based Services, Video Transmission Services, Optical Network Services, and Wave-Based Services are all forborne, while traditional TDM-based DS1 (T1) DS3 (T3) and all services below 200 Kbps in each direction are excluded from deregulation. DS1 and DS3 services are part of the ongoing enquiry into the special access market. The order states that:

"AT&T will remain subject to other regulations governing its actions as a dominant carrier including interconnection, non discriminatory access to network elements, directory assistance, databases and signalling, as well as the standard universal support, disability access, privacy and emergency service provision."

This adds to the forbearance granted to AT&T under the Section 272 Sunset order of 12 September, which granted similar relief to interstate inter-exchange services and is part of a generally de-regulatory approach being adopted by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Verizon had previously acquired forbearance in a similar petition making this development for AT&T widely expected.

The FCC's stance is largely guided by the principle that regulation prevents flexibility and limits the incumbent operators' ability to respond to changing market conditions - meaning that the best price for a service is not available to customers and that competitors gain an unfair advantage in offering competing services during waiting periods.

Essentially, the beliefs of the FCC, as outlined in this order, are that there is now sufficient competition. Time Warner Telecom was one specific objector to the forbearance application, although it was noted in the order that contrary to its assertions in the objection, it publicises its ability to effectively able to provide service using its own facilities or unbundled TDM loops covered by special-access regulation. The order states that:

"The Commission has recognized that tariffs originally were required to protect consumers from unjust, unreasonable, and discriminatory rates in a virtually monopolistic market, and that they become unnecessary in a marketplace where the provider faces significant competitive pressure... The better policy for consumers is to allow AT&T to respond to technological and market developments without the Commission reviewing in advance the rates, and terms, and conditions under which AT&T offers these services."

This is one of a number of regulatory developments that have been favourable to the incumbent telcos - from the relatively light requirements for the combination of AT&T and BellSouth, through to the orders allowing the combination of local and long-distance units, to three decisions on business broadband and franchising for TV services.

Bright House to deploy Start Over in Tampa Bay division
By Mike Robuck

Bright House Networks said today that it will be rolling out Start Over in its Tampa Bay division on Oct. 24.

Bright House Networks, which is part of the Time Warner Entertainment Advance/Newhouse partnership (TWEAN), will launch Start Over in the Tampa Bay division’s Manatee County service area first, with Pasco, Hernando, Citrus, Hillsborough, Polk and Pinellas counties to follow by the end of the year. The Start Over service will be available on 40 channels at launch.

Start Over is an interactive service that allows viewers to go back to the beginning of a show by pressing a button on their remote controls. Time Warner Cable debuted the Start Over service two years ago in its Columbia, S.C. division. Since then, the service has been deployed in most of Time Warner Cable’s divisions and has proven to be popular with the company’s subscribers.

Start Over was fashioned out of TWC’s Mystro technology, which was originally designed to create a network PVR. Time Warner Cable is currently working on Look Back, which will allow viewers to view previous programming over a longer time window than Start Over. TWC is expected to start Look Back trials before the year is out.

A representative of Bright House Networks said the company is commenting on any potential roll-outs of Look Back.

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