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FCC Puts Off Cable STB Ban

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has pushed back to July 2006, a deadline to stop the distribution of digital cable TV receiving equipment with integrated conditional access security systems.

The deadline was originally meant to spur competition in the development of digital cable equipment that would be based on a unified standard, enabling sales of cable TV converter boxes at retail stores across the country. By separating out the conditional access security system, consumers would be able to purchase a set-top box anywhere in the country with the assurance it would operate on their cable system.

Cable operators would then distribute conditional access security cards — called point of deployment cards (PODs) — that would plug into a cable set-top box or cable-ready TV set to enable a cable operator to control access to the programming package to which a user has subscribed.

The commission decided to push back the original Jan. 1, 2005, deadline to provide the cable and consumer electronics industries adequate time to work out a bi-directional digital cable interoperability system, and to help cable operators and consumer electronics manufacturers commit to their pending business-cycle commitments.

In its ruling, the FCC stated: “This 18-month extension should provide adequate time for the parties to complete their ongoing negotiations and for the commission to make a more knowledgeable decision as to any further changes in the compliance date.”

The FCC is currently receiving public comment on “whether the 2005 date for the phase-out of integrated boxes remains appropriate, on what, if any, incentives the requirement creates for the development of a commercial retail market for navigation devices, and on the economic impacts and costs associated with the requirement.”

By Jan. 1, 2005, the commission will complete a reassessment of the state of the navigation devices market and determine whether the designated time frame remains appropriate.

Neal M. Goldberg, National Cable & Telecommunications Association general counsel, hailed the decision to defer the ban, calling it “good news for cable customers.”

Commenting on the FCC’s pending decision on a plug-and-play systems, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition (CERC) called for “the approval and expeditious implementation” of a plug-and-play system, “including an outright ban on the ‘down resolution’ of HDTV content.” over those systems.