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Cable Pushes for Low-End Box Waivers

Comcast and others continue to push for a waiver from the FCC's set-top integration ban for its class of low-end boxes.

To encourage a retail market in competition to cable-supplied digital set-tops, the FCC required cable to separate out the security and channel-surfing functions in its boxes starting in July 2007 and provide a separate security device that worked with cable-ready equipment.

Comcast has argued that the mandate to separate out the security function will up the price of the boxes just as the impending switch to digital has increased the need for the boxes, which can convert digital to analog. It has requested the FCC allow it to three integrated boxes with limited features--no HDTV, DVR or Internet functions--past the July 1, 2007, cut-off for integrated boxes.

The boxes allow cable customers with analog sets to access some interactive features including VOD and parental controls.

In comments to the FCC last week, it included supporting materials from various supporters, including the Association for Public Television Stations.

APTS President John Lawson argued, in a letter to Media Bureau Chief Donna Gregg, that an affordable set-top for, say second and third TV's in a home, is important for insuring viewers have access to noncom's multicast services, which are getting cable carriage due to a deal with the cable industry struck last year.

Comcast in its comments also pointed out that the FCC, in defending its policy in court, has pointed out that it will entertain waivers for low-end boxes and even cited Comcast's request.

Among those raising questions about the waiver at the FCC are the Consumer Electronics Association and Microsoft.

Also filing in support of Comcast's petition last week was overbuilder RCN, which also wants a similar waiver for low-end boxes.