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ACA: FCC Grants Waiver of Home Networking Set-Top Deadline

In a victory of cable operators and a partial victory for set-top box maker TiVo, the FCC has granted cable more time to implement the requirement that they make HD set-top boxes compliant with an open industry standard for home networking. It has also clarified the open industry standard that those HD boxes have to be built to and says that cable ops don't have to have a single standard, so long as the one they pick is an open one that meets common output requirements.

The deadline for compliance was to be Dec. 1, but after TiVo, the American Cable Association, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and others asked for an extension of that date, the Media Bureau Wednesday said it would grant the cable industry until June 2, 2014 (an additional 18 months) and smaller cable operators until Sep. 2, 2012, an additional three months beyond that 18 months extension.

The FCC agreed with the National Cable & Telecommunications Association--and rejected TiVo's argument--that cable operators should have the flexibility to choose an interface standard so long as it is an open industry standard, rather than be forced to all use a single standard. "We conclude that the Commission did not intend to mandate a single standard that all cable set-top boxes must use," said the bureau. "But it also agreed to TiVo's request that the commission clarify what that open industry standard requirement means.

"We conclude that the processes that the Digital Living Network Alliance ("DLNA") uses to develop and adopt its home networking specifications satisfy the elements of an "open industry standard," tje bureau said. "We thus believe that the home networking solution that DLNA is working on now - a successor to the current "DLNA Premium Video profile" - will meet the output requirements in Section as long as it supports the required features of recordable high-definition video, closed captioning data, service discovery, video transport, and remote control command pass-through...."

The FCC noted that the successor standard won't be ready until 2013 and cited that as one of the reasons for granting the time waiver. "The record suggests that 18 months is a reasonable time for waiver because it will "afford industry the necessary time required to complete, approve, and implement the standard," said the bureau.

Having granted the 18-month waiver, the FCC said it saw not legal or policy reason why it was necessary to grant TiVo's request that it get a waiver for 12 months after cable operators had deployed a couple hundred thousand compliant boxes from other suppliers--Cisco and Motorola.

ACA had asked for six more months than larger operators got to come into compliance saying its members will in
all likelihood have difficulty obtaining complaint devices and software in time for the deadline because, if past is prologue, larger operators will have their orders filled first.

The FCC said it was not persuaded that six months was necessary. "An additional three-month time frame will best balance the needs of small cable operators while ensuring that their subscribers will not be unduly delayed in being able to enjoy the home-networking benefits of the rule," it said. ACA appeared not to mind the abbreviated extension.

"The American Cable Association applauds the FCC for recognizing that smaller operators have historically had
difficulty complying with equipment mandates when facing the same deadline as larger operators," ACA President Matt Polka said. "Instead of requiring small and medium-sized operators to file costly waivers in response to equipment shortages in the market, the FCC did the right thing by simply setting the deadline three months later for these operators. "The FCC's decision is an excellent example of smart public policy, and ACA commends the FCC for granting an 18-month extension to the entire industry as well."