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Comcast Wants Full Review of Set-Top Waiver Request

Cable operator Comcast has asked for full commission review of the Media Bureau's denial of its set-top waiver request.

Not mincing any words, Comcast argues that the waiver denial was "fatally flawed," and is "egregious in its factual and legal distortions and bias."

Comcast said it was "inexplicable" that the FCC took 266 days to act on the waiver when the Communications Act directs it to do so within 90 days.

Comcast argues that the bureau had no authority to tell Comcast that it could resubmit its waiver request if it limited it only to family or ethnic tiers. "The bureau's plan raises serious First Amendment concerns," Comcast argues, because, "The bureau would require that Comcast offer specific types of programming content if it wants to receive a waiver."

The bureau, said Comcast, "fabricated out of whole cloth" that and other "irrational" waiver standards. "In decades of experience with the commission, Comcast has never found itself placed in such a difficult position," said the company.

Comcast and other cable operators had asked the FCC to waive the July 1, 2007  deadline for the ban on digital set-tops that integrate the security and surfing functions so that the industry could continue to supply several low-cost integrated boxes, as well as the ones with separate CableCARD security. The industry also wants more time to develop and implement a downloadable security system that would be cheaper and easier than the current CableCARD hardware solution.

The Media Bureau had denied the waiver, saying it was time to implement the twice-delayed deadline.

If the chairman is any indication, prospects for the appeal to the full commission would not appear to be good.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, commenting on the Media Bureau decision earlier this month, said that the industry had seven years--plus two extensions-- to separate out the security and channel surfing functions of cable set-tops. The FCC mandated that in order to create a retail market for the boxes in competition to cable.

Martin, who revealed Comcast's waiver denial at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas a few hours before the FCC released it, told the CES crowd that cable's "inaction" had "hindered innovation, deterred competition and harmed consumers." He gave a shout-out to tech companies, saying that "electronics manufacturers are beginning to seize the opportunity to roll out new products" related to the set-top separation and driven by the deadline.

Martin said that a downloadable system would meet the FCC's requirements for separation,
and that he would have preferred to "establish a time frame for cable operators to develop
and deploy" the technology with adequate assurance that time frame would adequately be met. 
Absent that, he said, "I think the commission needs to move forward with its current