Comcast: Full FCC Set-Top Review

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In what it said was a highly unusual step, Comcast sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission Tuesday seeking an “expedited full commission review” of the agency’s denial of the company’s waiver request for certain low-cost set-top boxes.

The country’s largest cable company requested that the FCC reverse the “fatally flawed” decision “with all due speed.”

The FCC’s Media Bureau Jan. 10 turned down Comcast’s waiver request to have three low-end digital set-tops exempt from the ban on set-tops with integrated security features, set to go into effect July 1.

“Given the importance of this issue to Comcast and its customers -- and the rest of the cable industry -- timely action is of the essence,” Comcast wrote in its letter, dated Jan. 30.

The operator’s letter said the FCC’s denial was based on “a distorted reading of previous guidance by the full commission, while adding some new and irrational standards for waiver … fabricated out of whole cloth.”

Comcast also noted that the FCC’s Media Bureau issued the denial 266 days after the operator filed its waiver request and pointed out that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires the agency to act on such requests within 90 days. “The failure of the bureau to act in a timely fashion on a soundly reasoned request for waiver … is inexplicable,” the company added.

The company’s letter continued: “In decades of experience with the commission, Comcast has never found itself placed in such a difficult position, forced to incur (and to pass along to its customers) substantial costs that are counterbalanced by no public benefit … Therefore, Comcast must take the highly unusual step of appealing to the sound judgment of the full commission to promptly reverse the bureau order and grant the requested waiver.”

At the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month in Las Vegas, FCC chairman Kevin Martin said he believed it was “time for us to move forward” on the issue.

“I think the [FCC] should be saying no to some of the largest carriers,” he said at the conference. “Comcast has a waiver in front of us where they are asking just for a further delay without any kind of a date certain on when they will be able to develop downloadable security. I think it's time for us to move forward.”

On April 19, 2006, Comcast requested waiver of the integration ban as applied to Motorola’s DCT-700, Scientific Atlanta’s Explorer 940 and Pace Micro Technologies’ Chicago set-top boxes.

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