Not surprisingly, the American Cable Association issued a press release yesterday commending the Federal Communications Commission’s Media Bureau for issuing three-year waivers to Cisco, Pace, Motorola and Thomson for their respective digital terminal adapters (DTAs).

Digital set-top boxes with the limited, one-way capability give cable operators a means to migrate channels from analog to digital, as well as avoid the FCC’s integrated security ban that went into effect in July 2007. The set-top boxes with DTAs cost less than the models that come equipped with CableCards per the FCC’s integrated security order.

"The ACA is pleased that the FCC is adopting policies that will allow small, independent cable providers to deploy low-cost digital set-top boxes to their customers. The FCC's approach lowers the cost to offer digital television service to consumers and helps ACA members transition to all-digital networks and utilize old analog bandwidth to provide more HDTV channels, faster broadband access speeds and feature-rich digital phone service," ACA President and CEO Matt Polka said.

FCC Media Bureau Chief William T. Lake approved an order that granted three-year waivers for "low-cost, limited-capability" boxes built by Motorola, Cisco, Pace Americas and Thomson.

Although the boxes covered by the waivers allow consumers to watch digital programming on analog receivers, they do not support HD programming, DVR functionality or broadband access. The ACA has urged the FCC to take the next step by granting waivers for low-cost digital set-tops that can process HD programming to reflect the fact that millions of U.S. TV households have replaced their old TV sets with modern HD screens.

"We encourage the agency to now turn its attention to the pending waiver request for HD-capable, low-cost and low-functionality consumer devices that would permit more consumers to receive HD content at a low cost," Polka said.

Evolution Broadband broke through the DTA waiver barrier in June, and at the time the FCC said it would look favorably on waiver requests for other DTA vendors.

Comcast has been a big proponent of the DTAs during its Project Cavalry initiative that is reclaiming bandwidth by converting analog channels to digital.

Comcast has DTA deals in place with Motorola, Thomson and Pace.

During its second-quarter earnings call earlier this month, Comcast COO Steve Burke said Comcast had 10 percent of its systems converted to digital, with another one-third projected to be finished by the end of the year. Comcast deployed 1.4 million DTAs in the second quarter but will start exploring the use of switched digital video in its Motorola systems, according to Burke.

Cable operators can reclaim between 250 MHz and 300 MHz in each system that goes all-digital. If a typical cable system has 79 analog channels and the operator decides to move 59 of those channels to digital, while perhaps leaving 20 or so as a life-line analog service for some select markets, it would reclaim 354 MHz.

Given 354 MHz of reclaimed spectrum in the example above – and the fact that, on average, 10 SD MPEG-2 digital programs can be inserted into one 6 MHz slot – this yields enough bandwidth for nearly 590 channels.

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