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Comcast Asks FCC For Answers On Expected Waiver Denial

Anticipating that the FCC will not grant its waiver of the integrated set-top box ban, Comcast has written the commission asking for an explanation. In the request, Comcast is saying the waiver policy is arbitrary, capricious and difficult to reconcile with statements made by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

According to a commission source, a majority of the commissioners have already voted to uphold a bureau-level decision denying the Comcast waiver request. Comcast had appealed the decision to the full commission, but several commissioners have not voted, which means the decision is made but not official.

The commission did issue some waivers to other cable companies on June 29 of its July 1 deadline for cable operators to separate the security and channel-surfing functions of their digital set-tops. It had delayed the deadline a couple of times because the industry is working on a downloadable mechanism for separating the functions.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has conceded the online system is preferable, but says it is time to set a hard deadline combined with case-by-case wavier review.

 In a letter to the commission Tuesday, Comcast Counsel Jonathan Friedman said the June 29 waiver orders "underscore the arbitrariness and capriciousness" of the waiver policy

The FCC has said consistently that it would grant waivers on a case-by-case basis-- and it has done so-- including for systems pledging to go all digital by February 2009.

 But Friedman says that policy does not square with Martin's comments that he doesn't think that "every consumer should be forced to rent a set-top box," with Friedman saying systems can't go all-digital without requiring customers to get digital set-tops for all of their analog sets.

Comcast is also scratching its head over a wavier to Verizon for its IPTV set-tops, with the cable company saying Verizon has had plenty of time to have complied with the deadline.

According to Comcast, the FCC has to explain why it provided waivers to other cable operators for low-cost integrated boxes but not Comcast. 

"With the six orders issued on June 29, 2007, the Media Bureau has now granted set-top box waviers to over 130 MVPDs. As Comcast has explained previously, in the event that the Commission decides to affirm the Bureau's decision dneying the Comcast wavier requerst, the Commission is duty bound to explain not only why Comcast is being denied its wavier, but also how such a decision can be rationally justified while so many other waiver applicants are getting relief from the integration ban for the very same box covered by the Comcast request (the DCT-700) or other two-way, low-cost limited-capability boxes," said Friedman.

The commission, he continued, "must explain why it is discriminating in favor of the customers of certain MVPDs at the expense of customers of others," said Friedman.