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Retailers vs. cable on box progress

Cable operators are trying to dupe regulators by saying they can't meet the government's July 1 deadline for making their systems compatible with competitors' channel-surfing devices, equipment makers and retailers said last week.

Circuit City Stores and the Consumer Electronics Association urged the FCC not to exempt two of the country's largest cable operators from an obligation to configure their systems to work with hybrid digital/analog channel surfing equipment sold by retailers.

"To complain that compliance is not possible because no equipment exists suggests that the cable industry lacks control over what equipment is available. That is ly incorrect," wrote Circuit City. "The pending waiver requests reflect an industry.decision to ignore commission rules, period."

Circuit City also stressed that AT & T and Charter Communications are being less than upfront about the cable industry's compliance with other parts of the rules. Even though cable operators say they're meeting all other obligations, Circuit City noted, OpenCable, the industry's standard-setting body, has failed to provide specifications that manufacturers will need to make their channel-surfing equipment compatible with industry decoders.

If a waiver is granted, the FCC should head off additional cable industry delay by accelerating the timing of the ban on sales of set-top boxes that combine channel surfing and security functions to 2002, three years early. The NCTA countered those complaints by saying that Open Cable has established all the necessary standards but manufacturers are not planning to make the boxes.