NCTA Calls FCC Set-Top Decision Anti-Consumer

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The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has some harsh words for the FCC's refusal to grant Comcast and other cable companies a waiver of its ban on integrated digital set-top boxes, calling it a "puzzling, anti-consumer decision," that represents an "unprecedented breach of faith with the federal courts."

The FCC has been trying to separate the channel surfing and security functions--the latter keeps you from seeing HBO unless you have bought it, for example--in an effort to promote a retail market in set-top boxes.

After a several delays in implementing the ban, the FCC decided that July 1 is the hard and fast deadline. Comcast asked for a waiver of that ban for several low-cost boxes. The FCC's Media Bureau said no, with FCC Chairman Kevin Martin suggesting the industry needed the discipline of that deadline if the FCC's goal were ever to be achieved.

NCTA filed comments Monday in support of Comcast's request for a full-commission reversal of that Media Bureau decision .

NCTA focused on arguments the commission had made in court in defense of its ban, quoting the commission's defense: “[t]he Commission said it would be favorably inclined to view waiver requests for those boxes [as]another way of controlling costs in this area, and, in fact, the Commission has already received such a request from Comcast.” NCTA says that having used that apparent waiver flexibility as a defense of the ban, "the Media Bureau’s conclusion that the devices for which Comcast sought a waiver are not the types the Commission referenced in its March 2005 Order is untenable and amounts to a deliberate repudiation of the Commission statements to a Federal appeals court."

The low-cost boxes are consumer friendly, say Comcast and NCTA, as opposed to a ban that would result in in "hundreds of millions of dollars of annual costs on cable customers," even as the industry is working on a cheaper, easier downloadable security system, as opposed to today's SmartCard hardware-based solution.

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