NCTA Asks FCC for Set-Top Waiver

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The National Cable & Telecommunications Association filed a waiver request with the Federal Communications Commission regarding its order that the industry have retail-ready set-tops available for sale by next July.

The NCTA argued that the current ruling would require the deployment of “costly, less-efficient set-top boxes” to consumers so that users can buy their own equipment in electronics stores. The industry would like the FCC to waive that deadline until cable technologists can develop a downloadable, electronic solution, or until 2009 -- whichever is earlier.

In a letter to the FCC that accompanied the waiver request, NCTA CEO Kyle McSlarrow noted that the industry developed a security solution -- the CableCARD. Operators have deployed more than 170,000 CableCARDs to consumers, allowing them to utilize devices such as HDTV sets without the use of operator-issued set-tops.

Manufacturers are making more hardware cable-ready, he added. There are 450 models of digital-cable-ready sets in the market, from 24 different manufacturers, he said.

McSlarrow also criticized the fact that the cable industry is being compelled to make boxes available at retail that operate in any cable system, while direct-broadcast satellite providers received an exemption in 1998 that allows DirecTV and EchoStar Communications to deploy proprietary set-top technology. No third-party manufacturers are allowed to make DBS controllers.

The FCC itself noted last year that a downloaded security system would be a “more elegant” and consumer-friendly way to securely authorize a box installed by an operator or purchased at retail, McSlarrow wrote.

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