ACA Praises Addition Of HD To Set-Top Waiver

Association hopes FCC will grant other members relief from set-top design mandates

The American Cable Association praised the FCC for its decision Thursday to grant Cable One a waiver of its set-top integration ban for an HD set-top, saying it hopes that means the FCC will follow suit for other ACA members that "want relief from costly set-top box design mandates."

The FCC had initially said that its waiver policy for low-cost boxes, one-way would not include ones with HD capability. But Cable One argued that almost all cable nets would be offered in HD, and that granting the waiver would promote the sale of HD sets.

The FCC agreed that the one-way HD set-top would be an appropriate option for consumers, and so Thursday effectively modified the waiver to include them.

"Although Cable One's request does not meet the low-cost, limited-capability waiver standard articulated in the 2005 Deferral Order because the device has functionality beyond that which is necessary to promote the ability to view digital signals on analog television sets," the FCC said "we believe that, with the passage of time, it is appropriate to add HD functionality to the list of one-way capabilities that can qualify for a waiver of the general rule."

The waiver is of the FCC's 2005 decision to require cable operators to separate the channel-surfing and security functions of their set-top boxes in order to spur a retail market in the boxes. "We believe that a one-way, low-cost box with HD capability is unlikely to present a significant impediment to the development of a competitive retail market for navigation devices," the commission said.

The commission also modified its requirement that HD boxes have to have an IEEE connection to allow for home networking and recording, saying the added costs would outweigh the benefits.

The Consumer Electronics Association disagrees that granting the HD waiver will not adversely affect the market for retail competitors to the boxes. The FCC concedes that since this is the first waiver to a cable operator for an HD set-top, so it will have to monitor the market. It is requiring Cable One to file an annual report on the market where it is deploying the box (Dyersburg, Tenn.).

The FCC created the waiver policy partly in recognition of the additional expense and hardship it might cause smaller and medium-sized cable operators.

"The FCC reached the proper conclusion that a waiver was the best outcome for Cable ONE and its customers," said ACA President Matthew Polka, whose group represents smaller and mid-sized operators. "Burdening small and medium-sized cable operators with unnecessary regulatory costs means they will have less capital to invest in their networks and rural America will fail to enjoy technological parity with densely populated cities and suburbs."