NCTA Appeals FCC Set-Top Decision

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association this week filed an appeal with the FCC, asking the commission to reconsider its decision denying its request for a waiver on the integrated set-top ban.
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The National Cable & Telecommunications Association this week filed an appeal with the FCC, asking the commission to reconsider its decision denying its request for a waiver on the integrated set-top ban.

The commission's rule mandating that security and channel surfing features in digital set-tops be separated is designed to promote a market for retail sale of digital set-top boxes for cable and telcos. Just prior to the July 1 deadline for the ban, the FCC granted more than 140 waivers to cable operators such as Charter Communications, as well as Verizon, which is heavily promoting its FiOS fiber-optic-based TV service as an alternative to cable. However, the commission denied waivers to Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator, as well as the NCTA.

In its appeal, the NCTA called the commission's late June decision "arbitrary" and "discriminatory" and said the commission "violated every applicable procedure."

"The commission and Congress expect a 'regulatory regime that is technology and competitively neutral,' and that accommodates innovation," NCTA said. "By contrast, the Bureau granted waivers to over 140 MPVDs, but arbitrarily and irrationally denied NCTA relief for cable operators use of the very devices for which others were granted waivers."

The NCTA complained that granting a waiver to Verizon and other telcos, for example, went against the Bureau's goal of creating a commercial market for navigation devices and that cable operators are being forced to uphold standards that should also apply to telcos. It claimed that the telcos "have done nothing to comply with the law despite having had the time and resources to come into compliance with the rules since they were building video systems from scratch while existing operators had to redesign boxes for their existing systems."

The cable lobbyists also claimed that the FCC's justification for granting waivers to those cable operators who planned to go all-digital by the February 2009 analog broadcast shutoff has nothing to do with the goals of a retail market for set-tops and that "this Bureau-invented rationale is in conflict with law and policy established by Congress and the commission."

NCTA said that while the commission had accepted innovations by cable competitors as justifications for granting waivers, it rejected similar offerings such as more HD, VOD, faster broadband, phone services, etc., that cable operators were offering, that the organization says will be delayed and handicapped without a waiver.

The Consumer Electronics Association, which supports the ban, accused the NCTA of trying to "preserve cable equipment monopoly."

"After eleven years of delaying consumer access to competitive equipment, this latest NCTA appeal is not surprising, but it is still troubling," CEA said. "By denying NCTA's waivers, the FCC has spoken clearly for consumers and the public interest. As CEA has stated on numerous occasions, competitive device manufacturers are eager to offer exciting new competitive devices to cable customers, and the FCC has assured consumers that innovation will not be stifled. Consumers have long been denied the opportunity to enjoy a competitive market for products that can connect to cable systems.

"The courts and the commission have spoken and the time for compliance with the FCC's rules is now."