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Powell: One-Year Set-Top Extension

Washington — Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) chairman Michael Powell proposed giving the cable industry an additional year to terminate deployment of new integrated set-top boxes, FCC sources said Wednesday.

Current FCC rules require cable MSOs to deploy only CableCARD-enabled boxes after July 2006, but the cable industry fought for an extension, claiming that FCC policies would drive up set-top costs without providing subscribers with any new benefits.

The FCC rules are designed to promote a competitive navigation-device market. The agency ruled that the best way to achieve that was by separating channel-surfing and conditional-access functions. The CableCARD — which inserts into boxes and cable-ready digital-TV sets — performs the conditional-access function.

Consumer-electronics firms, major computer original-equipment manufacturers and TiVo Inc. pressed the FCC not to extend the July 2006 deadline, arguing that the market conditions sought by the agency would fail to materialize if cable-deployed boxes did not include CableCARDs.

Powell’s proposal has been circulated to the other four FCC members, but none of them has cast a vote, FCC sources said.

Powell has attached some conditions to the extension, including reporting requirements on progress toward development of downloadable security and on implementation of cable-industry support for one-way digital-TV sets that function with CableCARDs. One source said agreement on these details and others has not been reached.

TiVo, for example, has asked the FCC to impose a Dec. 31, 2005, deadline that would require cable to support a unidirectional multistream CableCARD, which would allow TiVo subscribers to record more than one program at a time.

Multichannel News is a sister publication of TWICE.