Like rural telcos, rural cable companies are in transition. Their legacy service, analog cable, which provides limited channel capacity, is no longer competitive. Like their telco telecompetitors, many have upgraded their networks to be more broadband capable. In the cable world, they call this upgrade ‘two way digital,’ which enables significantly more channel capacity, cable modem broadband service, VOD, HD, and voice services. It’s an expensive process.

As these rural cable companies plan their digital transition, one option is of growing interest – IPTV. Cable companies are beginning to see the advantage of IPTV – more channel capacity due to its switched digital video capability and more interactive features, to name a few. For some cable companies, rural and urban alike, IPTV actually may be more advantageous than the traditional digital cable route. In certain circumstances, making the move to IPTV can save them significant CAPEX and OPEX, while also allowing these smaller companies to leverage the growing IPTV ecosystem.

A recent move by a rural cable operator in Vermont caught my eye. Wilmington, Vermont based Duncan Cable is employing a ‘cable IPTV’ system from GoBackTV to offer the “…same new services as the large operators …” GoBackTV is targeting rural cable providers like Duncan with a cable IPTV solution which allows these service providers to leverage IPTV in much the same way rural telcos do.

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The key selling point is those expensive, yet necessary, set-top-boxes. GoBackTV’s solution leverages a DOCSIS cable modem in conjunction with an IP set-top-box (STB), which they claim is significantly less costly than a traditional IP STB offered by the cable STB duopoly of Motorola and Cisco/Scientific Atlanta. In GoBackTV’s solution, the DOCSIS modem basically converts cable QAM channels to IP and MPEG signals, allowing service providers to use much lower cost ‘commodity’ IP STBs.

By using this approach, “both telcos and cable operators are on the same cost curve for deploying IPTV,” says Rei Brockett, GoBackTV’s  marketing director. GoBackTV is targeting the hundreds of rural cable operators across the country who are currently deciding which digital roadmap to take. Should they, or their competitors, have some success, the impact on the competitive landscape may get real interesting, as rural cable operators start playing the IPTV card, just like their telco counterparts.

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