FCC Vacates SDV Rulings Against Time Warner Cable, Cox

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The Federal Communications Commission on Friday reversed orders by the agency's Enforcement Bureau that fined Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications for deploying switched digital video.

"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 FCC said.

The FCC's Enforcement Bureau in January issued orders fining Time Warner Cable and Cox for moving some channels from their broadcast lineups to switched digital video, which made that programming inaccessible to CableCard-based devices like TiVo DVRs.

However, in Friday's order, the FCC said it 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 Enforcement Bureau orders covered Time Warner Cable Oceanic's Oahu and Kauai systems and Cox's Fairfax County, Va., system. The Enforcement Bureau levied $20,000 fines on each system; both Cox and TWC on Feb. 18 filed petitions for reconsideration of the forfeiture orders.

The FCC's June 26 ruling, however, 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.

In a statement, Time Warner Cable said, "Time Warner Cable is gratified by the Commission's decision finding that the deployment of switched digital video technology is fully consistent with the Communications Act and FCC rules. We have long believed that SDV holds enormous promise for consumers. It enables us make more efficient use of bandwidth and, in turn, to offer more high-definition programming and faster Internet speeds, among other benefits."

Cox, for its part said, "Cox is pleased with the FCC's decision regarding switched digital video technology. This is a win for consumers that enables us to add still more value to their television service."

The FCC's order is available here: http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-09-52A1.pdf.

FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, in a statement, concurred that the migration of programming to a switched digital video platform does not violate FCC rules.

"Deployment of SDV technology to deliver video programming is consistent with the plain language of the regulations," McDowell said. "It 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."

But he emphasized that SDV deployment requires notification to local franchising authorities and customers. 

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