January 11, 2007 | By Derek Slater

Another Step Towards Cable Set-Top Competition

Way back in 1996, Congress directed the FCC to foster useful, competitive alternatives to cable providers' proprietary set-top boxes. As we saw at CES, several alternatives that rely on CableCARD technology are finally coming to market, and now the FCC has taken another step towards putting them on a more level competitive playing field.

Yesterday, the FCC denied Comcast's request for a permanent waiver from the "integration ban," which in effect forces cable providers to rely on CableCARD in their own set-top boxes. Without the ban, providers would be able to continue pushing their own proprietary set-top boxes on customers, treating CableCARD devices (such as TiVo Series 3 HD) like second-class citizens. The ban had been delayed twice before due to cable industry pressure and will go into effect on July 1.

Unfortunately, CableCARD devices are DRM-laden, but consumers could face even worse DRM if cable providers' set-tops were the only game in town. Set-top competition should help hold the DRM in check as well as bring more features and lower prices to consumers.

EFF, Public Knowledge, and a coalition of public interest groups recently asked the FCC to reject the cable providers' requests. Also, over 2000 people used EFF's Action Center to file comments with the FCC and support set-top competition.

The FCC did grant two more limited requests from other cable providers, but Chairman Kevin Martin stated at CES that, "I think the commission should be saying no to some of the largest carriers [requesting "blanket waivers" of the integration ban]."

Keep the letters to the FCC coming by visiting EFF's Action Center now.

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