Stevens and Barton Push Downloadable Security from FCC

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Looking to flex some muscle while they can, the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Commerce Committees--which oversees the FCC-- have asked the FCC to hold off yet again on enforcing its integrated set-top ban.

At the direction of Congress, the FCC passed the ban several years ago. It requires separating the security and channel surfing functions of cable set-top boxes. It was an effort to drive a retail market for  the boxes by making them compatible with retail equipment.

The FCC has delayed implementing the ban a couple of times and has set July 1, 2007 as the new date for implementation. Currently, the solution to separating the functions is a separate CableCard device that provides security. But they have not been widely deployed and have run into technical problems, which the cable industry has been quick to point out.

Instead, changes in technology have made downloadable security functions a potentially easier fix than the physical plug-in card.

In their letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, House Commerce Chairman Joe Barton of Texas and Ted Stevens of Alaska said that enforcing the date would be "foisting" the cumbersome and prone-to-malfunction CableCard technology on people who might prefer to use the current cable box.

"Forcing a costly deployment of outdated technology while another that offers more to consumers is just over the horizon is not good public policy," they argue. Instead, they say, the FCC should spur deployment of downloadable security while making sure that people who want CableCards have access to them.

The issue has heated up in recent weeks, with various groups weighing in.

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