ACA Urges FCC To Move On HD Set-Top Waiver

The American Cable Association pressed the Federal Communications Commission to move forward on Evolution Digital's eight-month-old request to exempt low-cost, limited-function HD set-tops from the agency's separable-security requirements.

"I write to urge the Commission to promptly place Evolution Broadband's petition for waiver on public notice," ACA president and CEO Matt Polka wrote in a March 31 letter, addressed to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. "In numerous filings in support of set-top box waiver requests, ACA has demonstrated the critical need for the availability of low-cost integrated set-top boxes to small and medium-sized operators."

Evolution in July 2009 filed a petition with the FCC for a waiver for its HD device -- priced less than $100 -- from the so-called "integrated set-top ban" prohibiting operators from deploying devices with integrated security.

Low-cost digital terminal adapters, or DTAs, are designed to allow cable systems to free up spectrum by allowing operators to retire analog TV channels. The FCC in June 2009 approved Evolution Broadband's request for a three-year waiver for standard-definition DTAs with integrated security functions.

According to Polka, the absence of low-cost, HD devices with integrated security have presented a dilemma to cable operators: they must either purchase and deploy low-cost non-HD integrated set-top boxes, or wait to see whether the FCC will expand the applicability of the Cable One order to permit any cable operator to purchase and deploy low-cost, limited-capability HD set-top boxes.

"The Commission's delay in publicly addressing this issue -- one that has been pending at the Commission since last year -- is negatively impacting the marketplace and consumers, particularly in smaller markets and rural areas served by small cable operators," Polka said.

The FCC issued a ruling in May 2009 allowing cable operator Cable One to deploy a low-cost HD set-top in a single market, Dyersburg, Tenn. The commission noted in that order, "[W]e believe that, with the passage of time, it is appropriate to add HD functionality to the list of one-way capabilities that can qualify for a waiver of the general rule."

Cable One had said that without a waiver it would need to rely on a CableCard-based HD box with a wholesale price range of $400 to $500.

Evolution Broadband was acquired in February by PPC, a cable and satellite connector manufacturer based in East Syracuse, N.Y. However, the former's Evolution Digital set-top unit was not part of the deal and remains a standalone organization led by principal Chris Egan and president Brent Smith.

Evolution Digital, based in Centennial, Colo., said all contracts and partnerships with partners including TiVo and Conax, a conditional-access provider that is a subsidiary of Norwegian telecommunications operator Telenor, will remain intact. Evolution Broadband had created the Evolution Digital unit in February 2008.