FCC Vacates MSO Fines Over Switched Digital Video

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The Federal Communications Commission has vacated orders fining Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications for deploying switched digital video, in another sign the agency is becoming friendlier to cable.

The FCC's Enforcement Bureau, in one of the last actions under former chairman Kevin Martin, in January issued orders fining the two operators for moving some channels from their broadcast lineups to switched digital video, which made that programming inaccessible to CableCard-based devices like TiVo digital video recorders.

In a decision released June 26, the FCC vacated those forfeiture orders, saying switched digital video does not violate rules relating to programming accessibility by such third-party cable-ready devices. “We base this decision on a plain reading of our rules, the potential consumer benefits of SDV deployment, and other factors that limit the potential scope of consumer disruption,” the agency said.

The FCC said rules regarding access by unidirectional digital cable products “were not intended to provide access to bidirectional services or to freeze all one-way cable programming services in perpetuity.”

The previous orders covered Time Warner Cable Oceanic's Oahu and Kauai systems and Cox's Fairfax County, Va., system. The Enforcement Bureau had levied $20,000 fines on each system; both operators on Feb. 18 filed petitions for reconsideration of the orders.

The FCC upheld the forfeiture order against TWC relating to the bureau's finding that the migration of programming to an SDV platform constitutes a “change in service” requiring 30-day advanced written notice to the relevant local franchise authority.

FCC commissioner Robert McDowell concurred that the migration of programming to a switched digital video platform does not violate FCC rules, but emphasized that SDV deployment requires notification to local franchising authorities and customers. He said, in part, in a statement that SDV “also can serve the public interest by allowing cable operators to comply with the commission's 'viewability' rules and deliver more programming options, including HD channels and niche programming, without displacing significant numbers of existing channels.”

Cox and Time Warner Cable separately said the FCC decision was good for consumers, as did their SDV vendor, BigBand Networks.

The FCC also recently approved waivers for two low-cost digital transport adapters, or DTAs, from Evolution Broadband, to its integrated set-top ban. Other vendors have since sought waivers for similar devices.