FCC Waives Simple, Encrypted Set-tops

WASHINGTON: The FCC has granted waivers for cable operators to use bare-bones scramblers. The commission cleared the way for operators to deploy certain low-cost, limited-function, set-top boxes from Motorola, Thomson, Cisco and Pace. The set-tops contain embedded encryption, which the FCC ordered removed from cable set-top boxes two years ago. The point then was to create an open, competitive market for retail set-top boxes, rather than the usual subscriber captivity cable companies have maintained for years.

Encryption, which controls conditional access to pay services like video-on-demand and premium movie channels, was relegated to a cable "card" a bit larger than an iPod Nano. Retail set-tops were then created to accommodate the cards. The effort initially went over like a lead balloon. Few people outside of Washington, D.C. actually knew about them, including folks answer service calls for cable operators.

The set-tops waived by the FCC are referred to as digital terminal adapters, or DTAs. The DTAs cost around $35 as opposed to the more expensive CableCard models, and give cable operators access to simple digital-to-analog converters at a lower price point.

The commission issued a three-year waiver for the DTAs, which are similar to one made by Evolution Broadband that received a waiver earlier this year.