CEA to FCC: Deny Charter Set-Top Waiver and Come Up With Standard

The Consumer Electronics Association has asked the FCC to
deny Charter's request for a waiver of the FCC's ban on integrated digital
set-top boxes, calling its proposal a "nominal and partial 'solution' that
cannot fairly be projected to work in the real world."

"There is no considered FCC precedent for the
open-ended evisceration of this regulation," CEA said in comments to the
FCC on Friday on Charter's request earlier this month for a two-year waiver of
the prohibition. Chartersays the waiver is necessary for the company to make the transition to
all-digital networks and downloadable software-based security.

The FCC back in 2007 instituted the prohibition on set-tops
that combine channel surfing with security. Cable ops were required to use a
removable CableCARD security add-on, a move the FCC hoped would promote a
retail market in boxes, though it conceded a downloadable software security
option would be preferable to the hardware in the long run.

Charter pointed out that it has 2.75 million CableCARD
set-tops deployed, so it has an incentive to continue to make sure its system
works with the relative few CableCARDS -- 33,000 -- it says have been requested
by customers for their retail boxes (the FCC has conceded that the prohibition
has not led to a booming retail box market).

Charter said it plans to deploy boxes with a chip that would
eventually be used for non-integrated downloadable security and one for
traditional integrated security, said the FCC, to be used during the two-year
transition period to downloadable security.

The FCC granted a similar waiver to Cablevision -- which CEA
points out has now expired -- and has taken steps to promote the transition to
all-digital cable, which frees up bandwidth for broadband, including lifting
its ban on encryption of the digital basic tier. But CEA says no waiver is

It says the cable industry's promise of a downloadable
security standard interface the functional equivalent of the CableCARD hardware
has yet to materialize after years of promises, and that Charter's partially
chip-based interim solution "affords access only to a single conditional
access system, and only Charter systems are likely to be able to download
software that uses the conditional access hardware in the chip."

And CEA says the argument that the chip is available for
others to license, even on the best of terms, is moot if "(1) other cable
operators do not use the system that requires it12 and (2) it does not employ
technology that is actually portable across operators."

In any event, said CEA, the FCC should tackle the issue as a
whole rather than through a piecemeal process of waivers. "If the FCC is
to give any consideration to issues raised by Charter it should be in the
context of a Commission rulemaking addressing the core issue that Charter
purports to, but fails, to raise," said CEA, which is that "[i]n an
all-digital and IP-delivery era, the FCC needs to identify a new, secure, open,
and nationally standard interface between MVPD services and retail

The commission set a Nov. 30 deadline for comment on
Charter's request and a Dec. 10 deadline for replies.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.