CEA Asks FCC to Kick Set-Top Box Market Into Gear

According to comments filed by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) last week, if the Federal Communications Commission is serious about developing a robust commercial market for digital cable set-top navigation devices, the agency must immediately revise its rules and the market incentives available to cable operators. The comments were filed in response to the Commission's Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, regarding the commercial availability of navigation devices.

In its filing, the CEA says that the current rules have not fostered the intended development of a competitive commercial market in set-top navigation devices so that consumers can obtain these products from multiple sources. The CEA notes that this goal is mandated by Section 629 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended. It "points its finger squarely at the cable industry for dragging its feet in providing the essential information and standards that would allow manufacturers to develop and market devices competitive with those provided by cable companies."

In a statement, the CEA said that "given the lack of technical specifications for a wide variety of services that are needed to support competition in the provision of navigation devices from independent manufacturers, we are convinced that the cable industry seems to have determined it has no responsibility to achieve a commercial market for navigation devices. The FCC improperly entrusted the cable industry with the responsibility to adopt standards that would facilitate competition and consumer choice. This responsibility is not being met. The ultimate loser here is the American consumer."

The CEA did note that the cable industry has made point-of-deployment modules available and has proceeded with the OpenCable process, allowing for the development of competitive devices, but added that the industry has pursued proprietary solutions for the delivery of digital cable services with much more "vigor and focus." According to the CEA statement, "the result is that the deployment of proprietary, non-OpenCable–:compliant set-top boxes has been accelerated, threatening to foreclose the market for navigation devices before any independently-supplied devices can be designed or manufactured."

The CEA says it is asking the FCC to take three steps to spur the retail market for digital set-top devices: "First, the Commission must take immediate action to open and expand the standards setting process for navigation devices and make sure that the process produces meaningful results on a timely basis. As part of this effort, cable operators should disclose technical information for all new cable services, so that all commercially available devices will be able to interoperate with these services. Second, the FCC should move up the date to end the distribution of devices with embedded security from 2005 to January 1, 2002. And third, the Commission must require the cable industry to remove the major barriers to the development of that commercial market—such as unfair and unreasonable licensing requirements—as soon as possible."