July 1 is quickly approaching, but action from the FCC on set-top integration ban waiver requests is moving as fast as Washingtonians are lining up to go on hunting trips with Dick Cheney. Meanwhile, a new waiver petition is filed nearly every week. This chart shows how many companies have filed waiver requests as of April 9, and the length of time they’ve been pending at the FCC.
The lowdown is that multichannel video providers can only deploy set-tops with separable or downloadable security after July 1. Several operators are seeking to have certain low-end boxes waived from the rule. Others, including NCTA, want the entire ban postponed. The Consumer Electronics Association is against delays or exemptions because it sees the ban as a way to get more CableCARD-enabled devices into the marketplace, spurring more competition for cable set-tops.
Cable operators maintain that the FCC must act on these waiver petitions within 90 days, pointing to a federal statute. At our deadline, only one company — Cablevision — had its waiver request acted on in fewer than 90 days. Ironically, the FCC recently established a 90-day time frame for local franchise authorities to act on telephone companies’ video franchise applications.
While only three rulings had been issued at our deadline, they shed some light on which way the FCC is leaning. Cable operators that commit to going all-digital before 2009 look most likely to get a waiver. Operators both small and large say this requirement goes against the FCC’s guidelines for granting waivers, and have warned repeatedly that maintaining the ban will force consumers to pay for useless technology. One of cable’s disappointments so far is that the orders have all come from the FCC’s Media Bureau instead of the full commission. Comcast has asked that the five commissioners review its denied application from the Media Bureau.
The Big Wait