Comcast Seeks Set-Top Waiver from FCC

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Comcast Corp. asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to continue deploying low-cost digital set-tops after the July 1, 2007, deadline that calls for all new boxes to have separate conditional-access security, such as CableCARD software.

The waiver request, the MSO said, will allow it to offer more subscribers family and ethnic programming tiers. It would also provide a low-cost way for consumers with analog-TV sets to continue receiving cable service after all TV stations begin broadcasting in digital in February 2009.

Comcast said it was seeking waivers on three set-tops: Motorola Inc.’s “DCT-700,” Scientific Atlanta Inc.’s “Explorer 940” and Pace Micro Technology plc’s “Chicago” series.

Under FCC rules, all set-tops deployed after July 1, 2007, must have removable conditional-access features, which the commission hopes will foster a more competitive set-top market and widen choices consumers have for purchasing digital-cable-ready TVs at retail stores.

But when the agency adopted those rules, it said it would consider waiver requests for low-end boxes, Comcast said, adding that such low-end boxes will make it easier and more cost-effective for consumers to buy family or ethnic programming tiers, receive digital-quality pictures, widen parental-control features and increase access to video-on-demand.

Comcast said it has purchased 1 million DCT-700 set-tops and plans to buy another 1 million-1.5 million this year. The operator also plans to buy SA Explorer 940s and Chicago set-tops when they are available.

Those low-cost set-tops cost less than $100. To make such boxes compliant with the new FCC rules would require CableCARD-technology integration that would add $50 in costs to each set-top -- costs that would be borne by subscribers, Comcast said.

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