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HD/DVRs Coming to One Puerto Rico Cable System as Another Awaits Waiver

Choice Cable TV, serving parts of rural Puerto Rico and the cities of Ponce and Mayaguez, has finally received the FCC waiver that will allow it to deploy integrated set-top boxes with HD and DVR functionality. The July 1 waiver followed more than a year of requests by the cable operator, which had stopped offering HD service to new or upgrading customers because of the July 2007 ban on “integrated” boxes—those without separable tuning and security functions.

Choice had maintained that the FCC-compliant CableCard systems were too expensive for most of its customers. Once Choice ran out of old boxes—and with the refurbished boxes popular in Latin America also prohibited by the ban—it was unable to sign up more viewers for HDTV, and thus did not secure more HD programming. This left its viewers with limited options for pay-HDTV, because DirecTV does not offer HD to the island and Dish only has limited HD service there.

Now another operator, Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico, has asked for a similar waiver. It told the FCC that only about two percent of its customers subscribe to HDTV, using a limited supply of CableCard-enables boxes. Those boxes are hard to find in Puerto Rico and cost about twice as much as HDTV sets themselves, which are available for less than $250 in the territory, the company said in its waiver request.

The median annual household income in Liberty’s service area is just $13,000, according to the company.

Both Choice and Liberty have previously been granted waivers from the ban for the deployment of low-cost boxes, as have numerous other operators who have committed to go all-digital by February 2009.

In its order granting Choice the right to deploy the HD/DVR boxes, the FCC acknowledged that Choice’s service area had an “idiosyncratic factual situation” and that “Rural Puerto Rico’s retail market for navigation devices is unlike nearly every other market in the continental Unites States.”

Also July 1, the commission granted a temporary waiver to Guam Cablevision for the standard-definition Scientific Atlanta Explorer 2200 and Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300 boxes, which are successors to the S-A Explorer 1850. (The 8300 includes a DVR.) The FCC said that island territory also had an “idiosyncratic factual situation” and suffered major damage from typhoons over the last decade.