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Cable MSOs Invest in Digital Set-Top Boxes

Cable system operators are reaping benefits from their past investments in infrastructure upgrades, but they haven't yet finished paying the full bill. Kagan Research finds capital expenditures by the six largest publicly-reporting U.S. cable operators rose in double digits in Q1 2006 � a 14 percent increase.

That CapEx is divided into six component categories, of which the most closely-watched is consumer premises equipment (CPE), the largest category, encompassing set-top boxes, cable modems and multimedia terminal adaptors (MTAs) that enable IP voice services. Total CPE spending rose 19 percent for the six cable system operators in the January to March period, compared to the same quarter a year earlier, according to Kagan. The only consolation is that it represents a deceleration from a torrid 30 percent CPE increase a year ago, in Q1 2005.

"It's still going up at a double-digit rate because cable companies are buying more digital set-top boxes," notes senior analyst Ian Olgeirson. "Adding to the burden is demand for HD and DVR-enabled boxes, which carry higher price tags than basic boxes." Kagan estimates 45 percent of U.S. cable subs are digital, which is quickly replacing old-tech analog.

In the Q1 '06 spending survey, the six MSOs � Cablevision, Charter, Comcast, Insight, Mediacom and Time Warner � spent $1.97 billion in all six categories of CapEx. The CPE category accounts for over half of the total. The other five categories are scalable infrastructure (typically head-end equipment), line extensions, upgrades/rebuild, support (a catch-all category for the rest of capital spending) and commercial services.

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