Cable once again wants out of an FCC rule that would require it to stop deploying set-top boxes without a CableCARD or similar external security element after July 1. NCTA made the formal request Wed, telling the Commission the rule—created to spur set-top competition at retail—would impose unnecessary costs on cable customers. NCTA wants the FCC to waive the rule until cable operators deploy a less expensive downloadable security solution that it says will work in cable set-tops as well as retail boxes. Cable launched a failed attempt last year to eliminate the rule, but one of Michael Powell’s last acts as outgoing FCC chmn was to push through an order delaying the deadline by 12 months to July ’07—marking the 2nd time (much to CEA’s dismay) that the FCC delayed the cut-off date. The extra time was meant to enable cable ops to develop a downloadable solution, something they are still working on today. As expected, CEA on Wed urged the FCC to reject NCTA’s request. "While NCTA claims this delay would benefit consumers, we believe this action is anti-competitive, anti-consumer and may stifle the success of the transition to digital television," said CEA pres/CEO Gary Shapiro. "NCTA is proving once again that the cable industry is not committed to competition." NCTA’s Kyle McSlarrow, however, maintains that the retail market is "robust and developing," pointing to the more than 450 digital cable ready devices from 24 manufacturers available at retail today and the more than 170K CableCARDs deployed. In his letter to FCC chmn Kevin Martin, McSlarrow argued it’s unfair that the ban doesn’t apply to DBS operators, saying they’re deploying proprietary boxes that have no 3rd party competition. — Charter and Advance/Newhouse filed an appeal to the FCC’s set-top order last year and are waiting for the DC Circuit Appeals Court to rule. Separately, Comcast has a petition pending to exempt low-end digital set-tops from the July ’07 deadline.

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