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FCC Denies Comcast Set-Top Waiver ... Again

The Federal Communications Commission Tuesday upheld an earlier media bureau decision denying Comcast a waiver of its ban on integrated digital set-top boxes. Comcast said it would see the commission in court.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin and commissioners Deborah Taylor Tate and Michael Copps approved, with commissioners Robert McDowell and Jonathan Adelstein concurring, but with criticisms of what they called the FCC's "inconsistent" application of its waivers, granting some waivers for "exactly the same boxes covered by the Comcast request."

Comcast said it was not happy with the call, but vowed not to stop its appeal. "We are disappointed by today's FCC decision," Comcast executive vice president David L. Cohen said, "but we are pleased that we now have a decision that we can appeal to federal court. It is our intention to pursue promptly judicial review of this decision, which we continue to believe imposes significant additional costs on consumers without any corresponding benefit."

The FCC adopted the ban on combining the channel-surfing and security functions in set-top boxes to try to create a retail market in competition to the cable-supplied boxes, but it also said it would consider waivers on a case-by-case basis.

The cable industry argued that it is developing a software-based solution that is more elegant and cheaper than the current technology fix to the separation issue. Martin has conceded the software fix is better, but stilll says the FCC needs the regulatory prod of a deadline, which was July 1, for a ban on the integrated boxes if a retail market is to develop.