NAACP Opposes Set-Top Integration Ban


A group representing the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Urban League and the Southern Christian Leadership Congress, among others, has asked the FCC to grant a temporary waiver of the FCC's ban on digital set-top boxes that combine surfing and security functions.

The Black Leadership Forum, which represents the above groups and some 24 others, was one of several organizations writing the Chairman Martin on Monday to ask for a waiver. Others included limited government/free market groups like Americans for Tax Reform, Americans for Prosperity, and The League of Rural Voters.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, the Forum called the ban a "regressive tax on cable customers."

Saying it supported FCC rules designed to "usher in new competitive technologies"--like downloadable security functions for set-tops--the Forum said that, by contrast, a "backward-looking FCC integration ban"  will divert resources that could be better invested in these newer technologies.

The FCC mandated that the access-control and navigation functions of set-tops be unbundled to help drive a retail market for boxes and other navigation devices in competition to the ones supplied by the cable company. The ban takes effect July 2007.

The commission judged that the market would be hindered if cable operators continued to supply all-in-one boxes, leaving customers less incentive to seek a retail version. Cable operators complained that the 2006 deadline would force them to raise monthly lease rates for new set tops, prevent them from providing low-cost boxes, and impede their transition to digital cable.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Comcast, and Verizon have all filed comments criticizing the ban for various reasons.

Another problem some commenter's have is with the security-separation technology used to separate that function from surfing. It is currently a plug-in card, but could soon be a more elegant downloadable system. Some are asking for a temporary waiver until that system is developed.