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News summary for 11/27/07

Tue, 11/27/2007 - 7:24am
CED staff

FCC meeting delayed; Opposition to 70/70 plan mounts
By Brian Santo

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin delayed today’s meeting of the Commission, apparently in response to rapidly escalating opposition to his plan to secure greater regulatory authority over the cable industry. Adding their voices against the plan were several analysts, who are also questioning Martin’s math, and perhaps most significantly the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers, who is questioning the legality of Martin’s methods.

Martin wants to gain greater regulatory control of cable so that he can accomplish the goal of reining in escalating cable rates. Few oppose the aim, but many have been questioning his means – invoking the so-called 70/70 rule in the 1984 Cable Act, which gives the FCC greater regulatory control over cable should cable become available to 70 percent of all U.S. households (done) and subscribed to by 70 percent of those households.

Most believe that the cable industry’s penetration is closer to 60 percent, and with competition from DBS vendors and now from the telcos, cable’s penetration rate is almost certainly diminishing.

Brian Coyne, an analyst with FBR, said in a research note that for starters, Martin is actually including Verizon FiOS TV and AT&T U-verse video customers in his estimation of cable penetration, which Coyne said makes no sense. He then goes on to present evidence and analysis that cable is nowhere near 70 percent penetration.

Bruce Leichtman of The Leichtman Group was less diplomatic in comments reported by MarketWatch: "It's not even an argument here. That's what is so appalling about this."

But while opposition from the cable industry, many programmers, minority groups, free-marketers, a group of House Republicans, and the FCC’s two other Rebublican commissioners would probably be enough to stymie Martin’s plan, the prospect of scrutiny from the House Judiciary Committee would be especially dampening.

In a letter dated November 21, Conyers repeatedly said he was “concerned” and “troubled” that Martin may have skirted and/or violated several public notice procedures. Piling on, Conyers said he is “very troubled by the rulemaking process on media ownership.”

Chinese operators tap BigBand for digital TV build-out 
By Mike Robuck

BigBand Networks announced today that five cable operators in China are using its Broadband Multimedia-Service Router (BMR) to process and deliver digital TV services.

With China on the cusp of next year’s summer Olympic Games, cable operators are ramping up their digital TV capabilities and some are using BigBand’s BMR to improve their bandwidth efficiency and optimize picture quality.

The BigBand customers initiating these digital TV deployments include Tibet Cable, Taicang Cable in Jiangsu province near Shanghai, Jiayuguan Cable in Gansu province, Nanchang Cable in Jiangxi province and Luan Cable in Shanxi province.

"The BMR's ability to deliver and manage high-quality digital video services has made it a leading digital headend solution in China," said Chuanhua Qu, director of Taicang Cable in Jiangsu province, in a statement. "We're using the BMR to deliver 100 digital TV programs to more than 80,000 subscribers."

With the latest additions, BigBand now has more than 40 customers in China.

AT&T to make dial-up more expensive than DSL
By Brian Santo

AT&T is set to raise rates on its dial-up service to be more expensive than its basic DSL plan, in a maneuver that seems designed to encourage dial-up subscribers to either move to AT&T DSL or to a competitive dial-up service.

On December 1, AT&T will raise its dial-up price to $22.95/month for its month-to-month plan. Some customers will see their rates go up to $15.95.

AT&T has several dial-up plans. Price points include $9.95 a month, $15.95 a month, and $21.95 a month. As to how the price increases would be applied, the AT&T spokesman said only that the price increases will be based on each subscriber’s current plan, and that for many current customers, the increase to $22.95 would be an increase of only $1. 

The company’s advertised price for its 1.5 Mbps DSL tier is $19.95 – though that’s with a one-year service contract. Competitive dial-up services are typically available at $9.95/month with a one-year contract.

As for a rationale for the price increases, the AT&T spokesman said, “This change is intended to better reflect the overall demand for broadband service.” When asked for elaboration, the spokesman said, “Throughout the years, as broadband has become more pervasive, consumers have been drawn to the benefits the technology offers over dial-up.”

Imagine hires 3 execs in preparation for upcoming commercial launch
By Traci Patterson

Imagine Communications has appointed two senior engineering executives and a senior sales executive in preparation for the company’s bandwidth-saving commercial product launch later this year.

Fifteen-year software development and R&D veteran Zeev Prokopets has been appointed to VP of R&D and GM in Israel. Yves Boudreau has been named director of systems engineering; he joins Imagine from Arris, and his expertise is in switched digital video (SDV) and Universal edgeQAM technology. And Jeff Delazaro has been appointed to regional VP of sales. Delazaro most recently served as the regional VP of sales at Cedar Point Communications.

Imagine’s new technology will allow service providers to deliver the highest video quality at any given bit rate, offering bandwidth efficiencies with no video quality degradation, the company said.

It will give cable operators a 3:1 HD and 15:1 SD expansion solution, offering them 50 percent more streams on existing networks without sacrificing video quality.

Imagine claims it is the industry’s first end-to-end video QoS offering, enabling the rapid deployment of advanced digital video services such as HDTV, VOD, nPVR, mobile, ad insertion and more.

“As we turn this critical corner in our business from trial to deployment stage, it’s crucial that we continue to round out our already strong team,” said Imagine’s President and CEO Jamie Howard.

NBC Universal, TiVo hook up on interactive ads 
By Mike Robuck

Everyone who owns a DVR swears by them, except for media and advertising agencies that worry that their messages are being skipped over by home viewers.

In order to help remedy the advertisers’ concerns, NBC Universal (NBCU) and TiVo announced today that they’ve entered into a multi-year strategic partnership. As part of the agreement, NBCU’s 14 TV networks and 10 NBC owned-and-operated TV stations will be able to sell TiVo interactive tags in combination with other NBC products, as well as subscribe to TiVo’s “Stop/Watch” second-by-second commercial rating service.

"This is a watershed moment for advertisers, broadcast and cable television and TiVo,” said TiVo president and CEO Tom Rogers. “We have been working tirelessly to help the media industry better understand and solve the significant strategic challenges they face in the age of the DVR. Partnering with a TV powerhouse like NBC Universal to bring TiVo's intuitive advertising solutions to a broad base of advertisers is a major step forward in the media industry's efforts to make sure advertisers are able to adapt to the new world of DVR based viewing."

The interactive tags will allow viewers to click on an icon when watching a commercial to obtain more information about that advertiser and then return to the exact place they exited viewing. Tags also provide advertisers with an effective way to reach live, time-shifted or fast-forwarding viewers and to achieve deeper engagement through the opt-in requests for more information.

NBC will also be able to offer its advertisers detailed reports on the results of ad campaigns that include TiVo interactive tags. Under the partnership, TiVo and NBCU will also work together to develop additional advertising products and will share revenue where appropriate.

Rogers said NBC is the first network to use TiVo’s Stop/Watch commercial ratings service which can measure audience viewing behavior and ad campaigns on a second-by-second basis, in both live and time-shifted viewing modes.

Verizon opens up its network to other devices
By Mike Robuck

Verizon Wireless announced in a conference call today that it will allow outside mobile handsets, applications and other devices on its network by the end of next year.

Instead of keeping its network closed, Verizon will open up the network to other companies’ applications and devices once they’ve been approved in the company’s testing lab.

Verizon is slated to publish technical standards for the development community in early 2008.

Verizon’s decision to open up its network is expected to be a boon to smaller companies and developers while also appeasing U.S. lawmakers and consumer groups who have called for wireless providers to allow outside devices and applications on their networks.

Broadband Briefs for 11/27/07

* Cox facility starts going solar
By Brian Santo

Cox Enterprises has installed a solar power system in its 336,000 square foot operations and communications hub in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. The 100 kilowatt system from Solar Power Inc. will provide only a fraction of the facility’s total annual electricity requirements, but Cox considers it a start on its green energy initiative, Cox Conserves.

“Cox Enterprises has a companywide initiative in place to further reduce our company’s carbon footprint, or greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by the year 2017,” said Steven Bradley, senior manager of engineering alternate energy & business continuity with Cox Enterprises. “We hope the technology will serve as an ongoing example to our employees and the communities we serve of the benefits a photovoltaic solar system can deliver.”

* Connexion picks BitBand’s IPTV servers 
By Mike Robuck

Connexion Technologies will be using BitBand’s servers for its IPTV deployments. According to the agreement announced today, BitBand will help Connexion provide multi-dwelling residences and communities with advanced entertainment packages delivered over a single fiber-to the-home (FTTH) network.

Connexion Technologies deploys fiber-optic infrastructures for properties in the United States. The company designs, installs and operates the networks and provides a one-stop-shop for real estate developers and communities. Utilizing BitBand's servers allows Connexion Technologies to quickly enable and deploy on-demand IPTV applications and business models.

* Smart Telecom selects Verimatrix for IPTV security 
By Mike Robuck

Dublin Ireland-based telecom provider Smart Telecom announced today that it will be using Verimatrix’s security offering for its interactive and VOD services.

Smart Telecom will use Verimatrix’s video content authority system (VCAS) to deliver secure content on its digital video network. Smart Telecom is offering IPTV triple play services over its Carrier Ethernet network.

“The race for IPTV subscribers is on, so we must offer compelling services to attract and build consumer loyalty from the start,” said Smart Telecom CEO John Riordan, in a prepared statement.

“Verimatrix’s vision for content security enables us to provide premium content today, and develop future business models that will continue to offer content when, where and how subscribers want it.”

* Verizon expands FiOS TV reach in Mass.
By Traci Patterson

Verizon’s FiOS TV service is now available to about 15,000 more Massachusetts households thanks to a newly-approved cable franchise in Waltham. Verizon currently offers its FiOS TV service to more than 400,000 households in 59 Massachusetts communities, as well as other locations in California, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Virginia.

* AT&T adds features to U-verse in Houston
By Brian Santo

AT&T will be adding services and features to its U-verse TV product in the Houston area. The features include an information bar for the TV screen that includes customizable weather, stock, sports and traffic information; Yellowpages.com TV; and AT&T Yahoo! Games.

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