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FCC Gives Charter Set-Top Reprieve

While the FCC has maintained a hard line on enforcing rules that require cable operators to separate the channel surfing and security functions of their set-top boxes in order to foster a retail set-top market, the Commission has granted waivers of the rules' July 1 deadline to large operator Charter Communications and three small cable operators.

On Friday, the FCC's Media Bureau granted Charter a waiver of the ban on integrated security for seven set-top models until July 1, 2008, saying that it "found that the severe financial difficulties that Charter faces justified waiver." It also granted conditional waivers of the so-called "integration ban" to Millennium Telecom, OneSource Communications and GCI Cable, say that these operators' commitments to convert to all-digital operation by Feb. 17, 2009 justified the waivers because "migration to all-digital will facilitate the DTV transition and enable expanded service offerings."

The FCC did deny Millennium's request for a waiver for a high-end set-top, finding its arguments "unconvincing."

It is worth noting that the FCC's Media Bureau described its set-top actions as "furthering both pro-competition and pro-consumer policies." In criticizing the FCC in February for refusing to grant waivers of the integration ban to Comcast and other large operators, the NCTA called the FCC's action "a puzzling, anti-consumer decision" that would result in "hundreds of millions of dollars of annual costs on cable customers."