Comcast, NCTA Want FCC To Exempt HD DTAs For All Operators

Comcast and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association executives are urging the Federal Communications Commission to make the case that all cable operators -- not just those with bandwidth-constrained systems -- should be allowed to deploy low-cost HD boxes with integrated security in an exemption of agency rules.

The FCC, at its April 21 open meeting, reportedly is considering proposing a "partial exemption" from the set-top box integration ban for cable systems running at 552 MHz or less so that such systems could deploy HD digital terminal adapters, or DTAs, which are designed to allow cable systems to free up spectrum by eliminating analog TV channels.

Comcast and NCTA want the FCC to extend such a waiver of the so-called "integration ban" for HD DTAs to all cable operators.

Their position is that "limiting the DTA exemption to small cable systems would be inconsistent with the Commission's broadband goals," according to an ex parte filing Thursday by Comcast and NCTA.

"DTAs help advance those goals by providing a low-cost, consumer-friendly way for cable operators to digitize their systems and reclaim analog bandwidth for faster Internet speeds, more HD and ethnic channels, and other digital services."

Separately, the American Cable Association last month pressed the FCC to move forward on Evolution Digital's eight-month-old request to exempt HD DTAs from the separable-security requirements. Evolution filed a petition with the FCC for a waiver for its HD device -- priced less than $100 -- after the agency in June 2009 approved its request for a three-year waiver for standard-definition DTAs with integrated security functions.

As the ACA did, NCTA and Comcast cited the FCC's May 2009 order allowing Cable One to use HD DTAs in its Dyersburg, Tenn., system. In that order, the agency said: "We see no reason to provide a regulatory incentive to deprive consumers of the HD-quality programming they expected and paid for when they purchased their sets."

Comcast and NCTA, responding to reports that the FCC is considering extending HD DTA waivers to cable systems at 552 MHz or less, said such small-capacity cable systems constitute only 8% of all cable systems and cover an even smaller percentage of all cable subscribers.

"Rather than limiting HD DTAs to this small subset of cable customers, the Commission should let all cable customers take advantage of this low-cost HD box option. Such an approach would be consistent with the Commission's policies for low-cost STBs, which have not drawn distinctions between large and small operators," Comcast and NCTA said in their filing. "Moreover, applying an exemption to all cable systems would help drive down the HD DTA costs for all cable operators and their customers as HD DTAs would be purchased in greater volumes."

The ex parte filing documented a meeting Thursday between cable executives and FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn and her chief of staff, Rick Kaplan. Those attending the meeting were NCTA executive vice president James Assey; Kathy Zachem, Comcast's vice president of regulatory and state legislative affairs; Comcast chief technology officer Tony Werner; and NCTA general counsel Neil Goldberg.