FCC Denies NCTA, Comcast Waiver Requests


The FCC late Friday denied National Cable & Telecommunications Association and Comcast requests for waivers of its July 1 deadline mandating that cable boxes have to separate out channel-surfing and security functions. 

It was also expected to extend Verizon a temporary waiver while it contemplates how to handle IPTV boxes.

The FCC is trying to create a retail market in set-tops in competition to the ones supplied by cable and other multichannel video providers.

The cable industry has argued that the deadline will force them to deal with the old technology of CableCARD security hardware, which plugs into the boxes or TVs, while it is in the midst of developing a downloadable security system that is cheaper, easier, and more elegant.

The FCC has concluded, and did again Friday, that while it recognizes the advantages of downloadable security and encourages it, it can't be sure the industry will deliver on the promises of that technology in a timely fashion.

The "severability" deadline has been pushed back several times.

According to an FCC official, a majority of the commission has also voted to uphold a bureau decision denying Comcast's separate request for a waiver, though not all the commissioners have voted.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin had said he would vote before the July 1 on Comcast's petition for full-commission review of a bureau-level decision denying its waiver of the integrated set-top box ban.

Comcast and other cable operators had asked the FCC to waive the July 1 deadline for the ban on digital set-tops that integrate the security and surfing functions so that the industry could continue to supply several low-cost integrated boxes, as well as the ones with separate CableCARD security. The industry also wanted more time to develop and implement the downloadable security system that would be cheaper and easier than the current CableCARD hardware solution.

The Media Bureau had denied the waiver, saying it was time to implement the twice-delayed deadline, a sentiment echoed by Martin.

The FCC Friday released rulings on some 100 waiver requests of the deadline--a half dozen or so are still pending--including granting a one-year waiver to Verizon and other IPTV-based boxes.

Some cable operators did get waivers, including those who had committed to going all-digital by the February 2009 transition to digital broadcasting and those who can demonstrate that they have ordered but had not received the boxes by the deadline.

The commission also voted unanimously to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on standards for making two-way cable services and consumer electronics devices compatible so that the retail market will extend to boxes with DVR and other two-way functionality.

Essentially it outlined two competing proposals from NCTA and Consumer Electronics Association and asked for input.

NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow said of the NPRM: "We applaud the FCC for agreeing that comment should be sought on all proposals for digital cable ready two-way devices, including our proposal of November 2005.  That proposal is based on the OpenCable platform, which was developed in cooperation with TV and PC manufacturers, application developers, and content providers and is the only approach that is immediately ready to begin being deployed nationwide today.  

"We're also pleased that the Commission, as we suggested, is seeking comment on other approaches that ensure "plug and play" products can be used by subscribers to all video providers, not just cable customers...."