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Integrated STB Ban Delayed By FCC Ruling

The Federal Communications Commission affirmed its decision to ban integrated digital set-top cable TV boxes, but pushed back the effective date of the order 12 months, from July 2006 to July 2007.

The FCC said it pushed back the date of the ban in order to give cable operators additional time to investigate and develop security-solution downloads that could be used both by its boxes and consumer electronics products sold at retail.

That option had been sought by cable operators and Microsoft, which recently took cable’s side in seeking time to explore new security software solutions.

The ban on integrated security systems in cable set-top boxes was originally imposed to spur competition for interactive digital television equipment, which could be sold anywhere in the country without restriction by the security system selected by each cable operator.

The rule led to the development of digital cable ready televisions, which address conditional access security by using removable CableCARDs, supplied to subscribers by each cable operator.

The FCC has sought a similar solution for set-top boxes.

Cable operators have been criticized for being slow to promote the capability in current digital cable ready TV sets or adequately supply purchasers of those sets with the necessary CableCARDs.

Those cards currently don’t allow for bi-directional capability necessary for interactive program guides and direct ordering of pay per view or video on demand services. Negotiations continue on the development of a next-generation bi-directional CableCARD solution.

Commenting on the delay, Brian Dietz, National Cable & Telecommunications Association president, said, “We are pleased that the Commission has deferred implementation of the ban on cable-operator supplied integrated set-top boxes. In the additional time provided by this Order, the cable industry will investigate the feasibility of a downloadable security solution as requested by the Commission, plus we will demonstrate beyond a doubt that cable operators are making CableCARDs work with Digital Cable Ready devices.

“More than 31,000 CableCARDs have been provided by cable operators to our customers and we expect that number will grow significantly.”

Gary Shapiro, CEA’s president/CEO, said, “We are disappointed by the FCC’s decision to allow cable operators to maintain their monopoly on cable set-top boxes for an additional 12 months. While at first glance, one year may not seem like a long time, the extension provides cable operators with additional time to further entrench their monopoly.

“The real victims of this decision are cable consumers who will be unable to reap the benefits of a competitive market, including consumer choice, innovation and competitive pricing. Once again, Americans are tied to the limited choices, premium pricing and questionable customer service that have become a hallmark of consumer complaints about their cable providers,” he added.

Shapiro welcomed the FCC’s decision to “set stringent reporting requirements” to ensure cable develops a competitively acceptable security system.

“We look forward to learning more about these measures once the final order is published. And we pledge our support to work with the Commission to monitor the cable industry’s progress toward this goal,” he said.