ACA Opposes FCC Set-Top Decision

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The American Cable Association (ACA) says that the FCC's decision not to grant a broad waiver of its set-top integration ban will deny advanced digital service to millions, and force other to pay more for the same services.

In denying the waiver, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said he recognized that a downloadable security regime would meet the FCC's standards for separating out the security and channel surfing functions of a digital set-top boxes. But he also said that after two extension, the commission wasn't going to extend the July 1, 2006, deadline for separating those functions, which was imposed to drive a retail market for the boxes in competition to cable-supplied boxes, a market that has not yet developed.

Comcast had asked for the broad waiver to give companies time to rollout the downloadable alternative to the current SmartCard technological fix, pointing out that the computer-based system will be easier and cheaper.

ACA President Matt Polka said that the FCC was wrong to conclude that "continued deployment of low-cost set-top boxes" was not critical to the DTV rollout. "The set-top ban and deadline cause unique problems by forcing ACA’s smaller operators to use their scarce resources to comply, making it even more difficult to move forward in the digital transition"

National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow, who represents big operators as well as not-so-big, also took issue with the FCC decision.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, he said that while the government is concerned about making sure lower-income viewers are not disadvantaged by the TV switch by supplying low-cost over-the-air TV converter boxes, the government is enforcing an integration ban that will make our boxes more expensive.  "It just makes no sense, government needs to talk to each other to make the transition as inexpensively as possible."

Also weighing in on the issue of disadvantaging minorities with the decision was Lillian Rodriguez-Lopez President of the Hispanic Federation and co-chair of Broadband Everywhere, a group backed by both the NCTA and ACA. "The FCC mandate to impose a new regressive tax on American consumers who use set-top boxes to access their cable programming will unjustly hurt middle and low income households in Hispanic neighborhoods struggling to bridge the digital divide," she said.

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