Some Cablers Fall Through Cracks in Box Ban

When the ban on integrated cable set-top boxes took effect July 1, most cable operators big or small were ready with the new separate-security boxes the law required, or else they benefited from a waiver or deferral of the ban.

But some unexpectedly found themselves without compliant boxes and without an exception in hand. WEHCO, a small, rural cabler based in Little Rock, Ark., apparently qualifies for a deferral of enforcement of the ban because it is awaiting 1,081 CableCARD-ready Motorola DCH-200 and DCH-6200 set-top boxes that it ordered through the National Cable Television Cooperative. But, it hasn’t yet received its actual deferral from the FCC Media Bureau. The result: On July 11, WEHCO stopped deploying boxes entirely (except to those few customers needing malfunctioning boxes replaced).

“In every market, WEHCO is canceling previously-scheduled service installations in which a customer had been promised a new set-top box that WEHCO is unable to provide,” a WEHCO officer said in an affidavit filed with the FCC.

As of July 19, the Media Bureau had not acted on the deferral request. A person familiar with the process said about 10 similar requests are pending before the Media Bureau.

Some cable companies stuck without compliant boxes might have thought they could rustle up a few used but refurbished integrated boxes, seeing as the July 1 ban applies only to new boxes. But in its orders June 29, the FCC said that refurbished boxes would not be exempt from the ban, ending that option for cablers.

At least one cable box refurbisher warned the FCC back in April that their product would be needed.

“The availability of refurbished devices also provides an important alternative source of equipment for small operators in instances in which a small operator is unable to obtain a sufficient inventory of new devices from the set-top box manufacturers on a timely basis,” Kansas-based Adams Cable Equipment told the Media Bureau. “If small operators could not turn to refurbishers such as ACE when they cannot get boxes from manufacturers on time, they could be faced with being unable to provide digital, high-definition or other services to requesting customers.”

The CEA favored banning the refurbished boxes.

More on this issue in the August 8 print and digital editions of TV Technology.