Comcast Floats New Set-Top Deadline


Comcast Corp. is floating a proposal that would give cable operators until at least 2008 to discontinue the deployment of set-tops with integrated components.

The Federal Communications Commission is planning to ban cable-operator distribution of new integrated digital and hybrid boxes after July 2006 -- a policy supported by the consumer-electronics industry.

In a Dec. 1 letter, Comcast told the FCC that if the agency did not agree to eliminate the ban -- an idea broadly endorsed within the cable industry -- it should “defer the integration ban for a minimum of 18 months.”

Comcast’s proposal was advanced in a Nov. 30 meeting at the commission by various company officials, including senior vice president of strategic planning Mark Coblitz.

In a 2003 decision moving the ban from January 2005 to July 2006, the FCC said it would evaluate the need to retain the ban before the end of this year.

An integration ban would mean that all new cable boxes except analog-only units would need to support CableCards -- devices inserted into set-tops that store the conditional-access codes to guard against signal theft.

Comcast and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association claimed that the integration ban would raise the price of set-tops. They also argued that the ban is unnecessary because the market offers CableCard-enabled digital-TV sets that receive one-way cable programming without set-tops.