July 1, 2000 Deadline for Compliance With Digital Box "POD" Rules
Section 76.1204 of the FCC’s “navigation devices” rule establishes a July 1, 2000 deadline to deploy PODs for digital decoders. PODs are devices that allow cable system security (scrambling) to interact with digital decoders purchased from retailers like Circuit City. The deadline does not apply to analog-only systems, but does apply to “hybrid” systems offering both scrambled analog and digital services.
Although techniques for complying with the rule will generally be available for digital boxes, compliance is problematic for some cable operators who offer both scrambled analog programming and a digital tier. The problem arises because many systems have deployed hybrid analog-digital decoders, allowing digital customers to also decode scrambled analog channels without needing to stack and interconnect analog and digital boxes. CableLabs published an optional OpenCable specification for an analog POD based on the EIA 105.1 (decoder interface) standard, but no manufacturer is gearing up to produce such a device. As a result, retailers like Circuit City would not be in a position to retail a competing box with the same functionalities. The FCC’s rules do not exempt these hybrid boxes from compliance with the rule, even though no manufacturer is providing an analog POD.
In order to meet the rule, “hybrid” cable systems generally have these options if they wish to continue carrying scrambled analog services after July 1, 2000: (1) digitize the scrambled analog channels and dual carry them in the digital band; (2) convert all scrambled analog signals into non-scrambled analog signals; (3) move all scrambled analog channels to digital, and provide digital boxes to the affected customers; or (4) obtain a waiver from the FCC.
Charter and AT&T Broadband have each sought individual waivers for their hybrid systems which do not have the bandwidth to dual carry the scrambled analog signals. Obtaining relief from the rules, where needed, is prudent to avoid non-compliance with the FCC regulations, and to minimize any possible disputes with franchising authorities.
Feel free to contact us if you have questions about complying with the rule or applying for a waiver. Additional background is available in our memoranda of June 29, 1998 and May 17, 1999.