We’re not Comcast. That appears to be the gist of Charter‘s most recent argument at the FCC on why it should receive a waiver allowing it to deploy some low-cost set-tops with integrated security after July 1. The agency’s Media Bureau last month announced it was denying a similar waiver request from Comcast, hours after FCC chmn Kevin Martin declared that, "It’s time for us to move forward, and to say ‘no’ to some of the larger operators asking for further delay without date certain." Although Charter ranks as the country’s 3rd largest MSO, it argues that it’s an operator of many small, widely dispersed systems with no national backbone interconnecting them. Charter— which has $20bln in debt, almost 11 times its annualized EBITDA—says it can’t afford separable security in every set-top box it deploys after July 1. Compared to other large multichannel providers, the DTV transition will cost Charter "much more" even though it has far fewer financial resources available, the MSO told the FCC in a recent filing. Comcast has asked the full FCC to review its waiver request for exempting certain boxes for 5 years because it believes the Media Bureau erred in its decision last month. Not surprisingly, CEA has asked the FCC to reject Comcast’s appeal. "Comcast’s filing proves, if anything, that the Commission has been far too generous in the discretionary relief it has afforded to date," CEA said in an FCC filing that called the MSO’s request "intemperate." Some consumer groups have filed comments supporting Comcast, including the Hispanic Federation, the League of Rural Voters and US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Meanwhile, Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico has asked for the same waiver relief that the Media Bureau granted BendBroadband last month. Liberty says it recently completed its migration to an all-digital network, so approval seems likely. It’s unclear how much the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau would fine a violation after July 1. Per federal regulations, the FCC can charge up to $32,500 per violation per day, not to exceed $325K per act—but there’s a lot of wiggle room there (i.e., the fine could be per set-top or there could be an overall fine for a provider with several violations, etc).

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