FCC

Verizon Appeals to FCC for Three-Year Set-Top Waiver

7/31/2007 6:20 AM Eastern

The Federal Communications Commission last month granted Verizon Communications a one-year waiver to the agency’s integrated-set-top ban for high-end devices, but on Monday, the telco asked to have until 2010 before it’s required to comply with the rule.

Also Monday, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association requested that FCC commissioners review the Media Bureau’s denial of the lobbying group’s industrywide waiver request to postpone compliance with the ban until Dec. 31, 2009, or until cable’s downloadable-security standard has been deployed.

Verizon, in its appeal to the FCC, noted that a common standard for software-downloadable set-top security is not expected to be available by July 2008.

The company said it would have to “expend enormous resources” developing an interim solution, because it does not have “the existing, off-the-shelf option for complying with the integration ban that traditional cable companies possess.”

Verizon was referring to the CableCARD, the removable hardware devices most cable operators have been deploying with their set-tops since the FCC’s ban went into effect July 1.

Verizon’s FiOS TV service uses Motorola set-tops that have a hybrid architecture combining traditional cable quadrature-amplitude-modulation channels for video delivery with Internet-protocol networking for video-on-demand and other interactive services.

“Forcing Verizon to implement a security solution twice will waste resources, time and effort to the company’s detriment and, ultimately, the detriment of consumers,” the company said.

Cable operators made similar arguments in asking the FCC to extend the deadline. But the FCC’s Media Bureau, which denied the NCTA’s blanket waiver request June 29, said, “The commission already has acknowledged the cost of separating security … and concluded that the benefits outweighed any potential harms.”

The cable industry has been developing a standard, called Downloadable Conditional Access Security, which it expects to be widely deployed sometime in 2009. DCAS, to be licensed to equipment makers by Cable Television Laboratories, will eliminate the need for CableCARDs by providing the authentication credentials to be delivered to a set-top or TV as a software update. Before DCAS is ready, both Motorola and Scientific Atlanta expect to deliver proprietary downloadable-security solutions in early 2008.

In July 2006, Verizon originally requested a waiver of the set-top ban until “an interoperable, open DCAS solution can be properly developed and deployed.”

Last month, the FCC’s Media Bureau granted waivers to Verizon and more than 120 providers that operate all-digital networks or promise to go all-digital by Feb. 17, 2009 -- the date when TV stations are required to stop broadcasting analog signals. Under the decision, those operators may deploy low-end devices that do not provide HD or digital-video-recorder functions until December 2009.

The bureau last week granted waivers with the same terms to another seven telcos.

Meanwhile, the NCTA, in appealing the Media Bureau’s denial of its waiver request, reiterated its position that the order “arbitrarily and irrationally denied the NCTA relief for cable operators’ use of the very devices for which others were granted waivers.”

The bureau’s decision “arbitrarily treats similarly situated multichannel-video-programming distributors (MVPDs) differently, is based on prejudicial procedural error and erroneous findings as to important and material questions of fact and is based upon a misapplication … of relevant waiver standards,” the trade group said in its appeal.

The Media Bureau in January denied Comcast’s waiver request for three low-end boxes, and the operator subsequently requested that the full commission review the decision. The FCC has not officially responded to Comcast’s appeal.

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