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ACA: FCC Should Allow Use Of Low-Cost HD Boxes

The American Cable Association is urging the Federal Communications Commission to allow cable operators to deploy low-cost HD boxes, saying relaxation of existing CableCARD rules would advance the analog-to-digital transition and allow providers to devote additional bandwidth to faster broadband speeds.

In recent meetings with FCC officials, ACA representatives reiterated the trade group's support for FCC proposals that would permit cable operators to place into service new one-way navigation devices that process HD signals and perform both conditional access and other functions in a single integrated device. The FCC is expected to adopt these proposals on Oct. 14, according to published reports.

The FCC's pending action would obviate the need for cable operators to rely exclusively on CableCARD-enabled HD boxes, which are hundreds of dollars more expensive per-unit than one-way integrated versions and put an unnecessary financial burden on the budgets of small cable companies, the ACA representative explained.

On October 4, 2010, Ross Lieberman, ACA's Vice President of Government Affairs, and Barbara Esbin, ACA counsel with Cinnamon Mueller, met separately with Marilyn Sonn, legal adviser to Chairman Julius Genachowski; Joshua Cinelli, legal advisor to Commissioner Michael Copps, and Rosemary Harold, legal adviser to Commissioner McDowell, to discuss new set-top policies supported by ACA.

Two days later, the ACA pair met separately with Brad Gillen, legal advisor to Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker, and Eloise Gore, legal advisor to Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, on the same set-top issues.

In these meeting, the ACA representatives stressed that the availability of low-cost, integrated, HD-capable set-top boxes would also ensure that consumers who want an HD set top box for an HD television set in a bedroom or kitchen, but don't need the advanced two-way functionality, such as video-on-demand, have available an affordable option for only those functionalities they truly desired.

Lieberman and Esbin stated that the proposed FCC action will not have any substantial impact on the FCC's mandate to promote a competitive retail market for navigation devices. They noted that the rules will not substantially affect the retail market for retail CableCARD navigation devices, and will not substantially affect cable operators' reliance on the CableCARD standard.

In concluding, ACA's team urged the FCC to exempt the low functionality, HD-only set-top boxes from the requirement to include the IEEE 1394 or similar interface that provides home networking
functionality. They pointed out that not waiving the requirement for IEEE 1394 or similar Internet Protocol-enabled interfaces to the box would undercut the fundamental purpose of permitting HD DTAs to be deployed in the first place, which is to allow cable operators to provide their consumers with a low-cost, low functionality set top box that processes HD signals in addition to standard definition signals.

The FCC itself reached this same conclusion, ACA's representatives said, the one and only time it granted a waiver to a cable operator to deploy HD DTAs to its customers, finding that the "cost to consumers of imposing the IEEE 1394 output requirement would outweigh the potential benefits."

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