Tech Firms Want New FCC Box Rule


An array of technology firms, including major computer and TV-set manufacturers, is pressing federal regulators to enforce new set-top-box rules against the cable industry.

Cable operators are resisting implementation of a Federal Communications Commission rule that would ban the deployment of new integrated set-tops after July 1, 2006, effectively meaning that all new boxes would need to function with the CableCARD conditional-access device.

“The time has come to end consumers’ exclusive reliance on [set-top boxes] provided by their cable company. In fact, it’s long overdue,” Hewlett-Packard Co. executive vice president Shane Robinson said in a Feb. 17 letter to the FCC.

The CableCARD mandate is designed to establish a retail set-top market, and the technology firms maintained that the creation of such a market requires that cable operators support the CableCARD in all new boxes that they provide their customers.

Cable insists that the mandate would drive up box costs without creating new value for consumers.

In a separate letter, H-P joined 11 other companies, including Sharp Electronics Corp. and Dell Inc., in urging the FCC to reject cable’s proposal that the agency should eliminate the ban or postpone its effective date by 18 months.

“The only way to ensure that consumers enjoy the benefits of a competitive marketplace is to maintain the requirement that devices supplied by cable operators rely on the same CableCARDs for security that must be used by equipment supplied through competitive retail outlets,” the companies told the FCC in a Feb. 18 letter.

An FCC source said one proposal under review called for retaining the ban but exempting low-cost boxes, but a price level defining “low-cost” was not provided. Earlier this week, a commission source said no decisions had been made.

On Wednesday, FCC member Jonathan Adelstein said it was important for the agency to move quickly because if the ban is affirmed, cable operators need time to place orders to meet the July 1 deadline.