Cable Seeks Set-Top Waiver From FCC


The National Cable & Telecommunication Association has asked the Federal Communications Commission for a waiver from its order that cable operators have retail-ready set-tops available for sale by next July.

The cable-industry trade group argued that the current ruling would require the deployment of “costly, less-efficient set-top boxes” to consumers so that users can buy their own equipment in retail electronics stores. The industry would like the FCC to waive that deadline until cable technologists can develop a downloadable, electronic solution, or until 2009, whichever is earlier.

In a letter to the FCC that accompanied the waiver request, NCTA CEO Kyle McSlarrow noted that the industry developed a security solution: the CableCard. Operators have deployed more than 170,000 CableCards to consumers — a credit-card shaped unit that can be placed inside such devices as high-definition television sets, handling conditional-access chores instead of an operator-issued set-top box.

Manufacturers are making more cable-ready hardware, he added. There are 450 models of digital cable-ready sets in the market, from 24 different manufacturers, he said.

McSlarrow also criticized the FCC for compelling cable operators to make set-top boxes available at retail that can operate with any cable system, while direct-broadcast satellite providers DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp. received an exemption in 1998, which allows them to deploy proprietary set-top technology. No third-party manufacturers are allowed to make DBS controllers.