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CEA Protests Comcast CableCARD Waiver

In an 18-page comment filed with the Federal Communications Commission, the Consumer Electronics Association argued that Comcast Corp. should not be granted a waiver to the July 1, 2007, CableCARD deadline because it will erode support for the removable conditional-access technology.

The goal of the CableCARD technology is to make it possible for cable set-top boxes and cable-ready TV sets to be sold at retail by separating the conditional access – which authorizes cable service – removable. CableCARD-enabled boxes come equipped with a slot, and upon receiving a CableCARD from a cable operator, a customer can plug in and receive cable TV service.

In the waiver, Comcast argued that allowing it to continue offering low-cost set-tops that don’t support the CableCARD technology allow it to offer more family and ethnic programming tiers and allow subscribers with analog-TV sets to continue receiving cable service after all TV stations begin broadcasting in digital in February 2009.

Comcast is specifically seeking the waiver for three set-tops: Motorola’s DCT-700, Scientific Atlanta’s Explorer 940 and Pace Micro Technology’s Chicago series.

CEA argues that granting the waiver thwarts the idea of creating one common means to provide conditional access for devices provided by cable operators or through retail outlets. CEA also argues that the waiver is open ended, setting no other deadline for Comcast to meet the requirement.

But while electronics manufactures including Sony Corp. and Sharp Electronics Corp. filed comments echoing the CEA position, Comcast had more than its share of backers supporting the waiver – predictably Scientific Atlanta, Motorola and Pace Micro Technologies. But supporters also include Panasonic Corp. of North America.

Panasonic, which was the first manufacturer to debut a CableCARD-ready set-top in 2002, supported the waiver “primarily as a means to help ensure the nation’s smooth, non-disruptive transition to digital television.”