CEA Wants FCC To Reverse Cablevision Set-Top Waiver

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The Consumer Electronics Association asked the Federal Communications Commission to reverse an order that exempts Cablevision Systems from the so-called "integrated set-top ban" until the end of 2010.

The FCC's Media Bureau last month granted Cablevision's request for an extension to its previous waiver. That allows the MSO to continue using smart-card-based set-tops rather than boxes with CableCards, as long as it adheres to a schedule phasing in an "open" downloadable-security technology.

The CEA, in a Feb. 17 filing requesting a review of the order by the full commission, said it hasn't received sufficient information to determine whether the Cablevision system could "form the basis for a national and nationally portable conditional access system that is a true alternative to the CableCard." (The PDF of the letter is available here.)

The trade group argued that the order adopted a substantive rule change without seeking public comment or "articulating a reasoned basis for its decision," thereby violating the Administrative Procedure Act.

"Unless the commission reviews and reverses or modifies this order, the Media Bureau order will have required Cablevision to implement a ‘downloadable security' technology that has never been publicly and specifically described or commented upon, and on whose regulatory validity the Bureau has declined to pass," the CEA said.

Under the waiver extension granted by the Media Bureau, Cablevision must begin phasing-in set-top boxes that rely on an "open standard" downloadable-security solution by July 1, 2009. By the end of 2010, all new set-tops will need to rely on downloadable security.

Cablevision said it will use an NDS-developed downloadable-security system, and the cable company said NDS will license components "to any vendor that wishes to deploy the system on an open basis."

The FCC rule banning set-tops with integrated security features, which went into effect July 1, 2007, requires most cable operators to deploy set-top boxes with the same removable CableCards used in cable-ready TVs and DVRs sold at retail. The theory is that such "common reliance" will result in third-party products working better on cable systems.

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