Network Neutrality Foes Fight Set-Top Box Waiver


The Open Internet Coalition, which has pushed for network neutrality, has extended that charter to blocking a Comcast-led effort by some cable companies to get a waiver of the integrated set-top box ban that kicks in July 1.

On Wednesday it said it had written FCC Chairman Kevin Martin asking the FCC to reject that effort.

The group links the set-top and neutrality issues, arguing in the letter that "if the cable companies can succeed in their efforts to keep control over the set-top box market and stop choice and innovation in this area, they will take similar actions over consumer’s experiences on the Internet."

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

After 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.

Comcast then called for a full-commission review, with a decision likely in the next couple of weeks.

The low-cost boxes are consumer friendly, argues Comcast, 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.

The FCC has said it would consider waiver requests on a case-by-case basis and has granted waivers in some cases, but has taken a hard line against granting a blanket waiver.