Circuit City: OpenCable Needs FCC

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Consumer-electronics retailer Circuit City Inc. wants the
Federal Communications Commission to get involved in OpenCable, asking for immediate
action on the matter in ex parte comments filed last week.

In its FCC filing, Circuit City suggested that the FCC
should specify a September 1998 deadline for cable to include renewable security and
software-configuration modules in the OpenCable specification.

Plus, Circuit City wants the commission to specify a logo
and certification program, so that any manufacturers willing to comply with OpenCable can
do so "without fear of prosecution for cable piracy."

Circuit City also wants clearance to order set-tops for
resale without obtaining permission from cable operators, so long as the set-tops are
marked with OpenCable stickers indicating compliance with the specification.

The comments were presented by Alan McCollough, president
of Circuit City, and Stephen Cannon, senior vice president and general counsel to FCC
commissioners Harold Furchtgott-Roth and Susan Ness and to other members of the FCC's
Cable Services Bureau.

In a separate section, Circuit City cautioned against
letting cable operators make decisions about what types of digital-television resolution
they will offer to their subscribers.

"The choice [on high-definition TV and multichannel
standard-definition TV] should ... not be dictated by the remnants of cable monopoly power
over transmission to and display in the home, established under a regulatory system based
on obsolete economic assumptions," Circuit City argued.

"What they said was that there are a lot of good
things about OpenCable, and our twist is that we'd like for there to be a final
specification by September," said David Robinson, general manager of General
Instrument Corp.'s digital-video division, adding, "which may or may not be
feasible."

James Chiddix, chief technical officer for Time Warner
Cable, said many of the retailer's requests are already addressed in the OpenCable
process.

"It's a self-serving notice from somebody who
wants to make money by selling set-tops," Chiddix said. "That's not a bad
thing -- it shows that there's a real sense that digital cable-ready products are
good."

Chiddix said he doesn't think that FCC involvement is
necessary.

As for Circuit City's request for a September
deadline, Chiddix said, he's also not sure if it can be "done that quickly, and
done right."

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