FCC Delays Set-Top Ban

The FCC has decided to delay the implementation of a ban on integrated cable set-top boxes for one year.

The FCC's original deadline of July 2006 was designed to force cable operators to stop providing integrated cable set-top boxes and instead stimulate the market for digital cable-ready DTV sets that use so-called "CableCARDs" to provide premium cable programming and services. But the cable industry argued that the deadline doesn't give them enough time to develop the downloadable security software needed to protect such services. Chip vendors, including Intel, argued for keeping the 2006 deadline while Microsoft, which will benefit from the development of security solutions, sided with the cable industry.

The ban, however, doesn't come without some strings. The commission gave the cable industry until Dec. 1, 2005 to report whether or not development and deployment of downloadable security is feasible, a timeline for said deployment and a draft of licensing terms. In addition, starting August 1, 2005, NCTA and CEA must provide the commission with bi-monthly progress reports on negotiations for a two-way plug and play agreement and the six largest cable operators must file status reports on CableCARD deployoment every three months.

Commenting that the extension marked the third time the deadline had been delayed, Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein called the decision a "difficult one."

"Given past delays, and even more importantly, the lack of any real alternative to leasing a set-top box for cable subscribers who want access to the latest digital technologies, I was very hesitant to support any further adjustment to the to the integration ban, absent a compelling reason to do so," he said. "While a close call, I believe today's decision provides a justification for a modest extension."

NCTA said it would "demonstrate beyond a doubt that cable operators are making CableCARDs work with Digital Cable Ready devices." More than 31,000 CableCARDs have been deployed, according to the association.