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Intel Seeks Waiver On FCC's FireWire Set-Top Rule

Intel has requested a waiver to the Federal Communications Commission's rule requiring HD cable set-tops to include an IEEE 1394 high-speed serial bus port -- also known as FireWire -- for units that incorporate the chip maker's system-on-a-chip processors with IP outputs.

FCC rules mandate that every HD digital cable set-top box include a 1394 port as a way to hook up an HDTV or other devices. In its Oct. 7 filing, Intel argued that since that rule was adopted "the marketplace has shifted away from little-used and very expensive 1394 technology to the widely-deployed IP technologies."

"The regulation requiring 1394 stands as a technological ‘bridge to nowhere,'" Intel said.

The FCC required HD cable set-tops to include an IEEE 1394 interface, as well as HDMI and DVI interfaces, effective July 1, 2005.

Intel lobbied the FCC last year to change the rule and instead require that HD set-top boxes include an IP-based interface, like Ethernet.

Separately, Intel two years ago announced a partnership with Comcast to bring a set-top box using its chips to market, and the two companies have also said they're working together on interactive "widgets" for cable.

Without a waiver to the 1394 requirement, according to Intel, it would be "cost-prohibitive" to produce system-on-a-chip products for operator-sourced set-tops. Conversely, the company said, "by granting the waiver, consumers will obtain access to cable operator-supplied STBs that can enable digital recording and home networking with the same IP technologies used by current digital recording and information technology products, and consumers' existing home networks."

According to Intel, a chip that supports IEEE 1394 costs more than $5 compared with "a few cents per device" for a chip that supports IP networks.

Intel cited the waiver the FCC granted to Cable One in May allowing the operator to deploy one-way, low-cost HD set-tops with integrated security, under which the agency also waived the 1394 output requirement because the costs would "outweigh the potential benefits" to consumers.

The company also noted that CableLabs has added Digital Transmission Copy Protection over IP (DTCP-IP) as an approved output protection technology for all unidirectional and tru2way products.

The waiver request is available on the FCC's Web site here.