Technically, there have been rules on the books for a while that require most cable companies to have the ability to support some sort of POD (point-of-deployment) solution ...
However, those rules were (mostly) useless for a variety of reasons ... specifically lack of a single POD standard (in theory different cable companies could implement different solutions so there was no incentive for manufacturers to make ... or consumers to buy ... equipment with no guarantee it would work) ... 'check with your local cable company for possible compatability' doesn't fly real well.
The recent digital cable plug-and-play agreement addresses this by specifying a single standard that (most) cable companies must comply with. The standard is for 'one-way' services only ... basically video reception. VOD, PPV, etc. aren't really covered (to be addressed 'later').
Specifically, Section 7 (starting on pg. 48)
|Â§76.640 Support for Unidirectional Digital Cable Products on Digital Cable Systems.
(a) The requirements of this section shall apply to digital cable systems. For purposes of this section, digital cable systems shall be defined as a cable system with one or more channels utilizing QAM modulation for transporting programs and services from its headend to receiving devices. Cable systems that only pass through 8 VSB broadcast signals shall not be considered digital cable systems.
(b) No later than July 1, 2004, cable operators shall support unidirectional digital cable products, as defined in Â§15.123 of this chapter, through the provisioning of Point-of-Deployment modules (PODs) and services, as follows:
(1) Digital cable systems with an activated channel capacity of 750 MHz or greater shall comply with the following technical standards and requirements:
(2) All digital cable systems shall comply with:
(3) Cable operators shall ensure, as to all digital cable systems, an adequate supply of PODs that comply with the standards specified in paragraph (b)(2) of this section to ensure convenient access to such PODS by customers. Without limiting the foregoing, cable operators may provide more advanced PODs (i.e., PODs that are based on successor standards to those specified in paragraph (b)(2) of this section) to customers whose unidirectional digital cable products are compatible with the more advanced PODs.
So, if your cable company meets the above ... they must be able to provide you a CableCARD by July 1, 2004. There is some CableCARD equipment (such as some integrated Panasonic TVs) coming out.
There is probably some existing equipment out there (since the CableCARD standard has been out for a while) that has the potential
of working ... but hard to know for sure.