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Statement from FCC Chairman William E. Kennard on
TV Set Top Boxes and Navigation Devices

The Commission's action today ensures that consumers will be able to purchase their television set top boxes and other equipment from retail stores starting in July 2000. This will create a huge market for the manufacture, distribution and sale of these devices. It will enhance innovation and bring consumers better prices. Our decision today is another key part of the larger goal of creating competition across the spectrum of telecommunications services.

Congress had the foresight to make it the Commission's statutory obligation to ensure that set top boxes and other navigation devices be made commercially available. By requiring that cable operators separate security functions from non-security functions for cable set top boxes by July 1, 2000, we have ensured that consumers will be able to purchase these cable boxes from their local retailers by that date.

I appreciate the commitment of more than half a dozen of the largest multiple system operators and General Instruments and Scientific Atlanta to make security modules available by September 2000. Although the Commission has pursued a slightly more aggressive deadline, I have every confidence that this deadline will be met. Indeed, our decision today is premised on the commitments that the multiple system operators and manufacturers have made. While some may argue that the Commission should have chosen a more aggressive effective date, I am persuaded that July 2000 is the most feasible and realistic timeframe within which to make our rules effective. We will examine carefully the progress reports to be filed with the Commission every six months to track progress towards the July 1, 2000 deadline.

I support the decision to establish a prohibition on the provision of integrated cable boxes as of January 1, 2005. While I appreciate the concerns raised by the cable industry and the manufacturers that such a prohibition is unnecessary, ultimately, I believe that a sunset is appropriate to ensure that the Commission satisfies the statutory mandate that cable boxes be commercially available and I believe that the January 1, 2005 date will provide for a reasonable transition period.

We must recognize that this item is the beginning of a long process. There are many questions and issues that will arise during the development of new set top boxes and other navigation devices that the Commission may need to address. Many of these issues were raised late in this proceeding and are better addressed with the benefit of a full record, but that fact does not diminish their importance. For example, I am very concerned that a variety of electronic programming guides be made available to the consumer. While it is at least clear that the equipment used by these electronic programming guides is covered by Section 629, I believe that there may be additional questions under Section 629 about the availability of these services to the ultimate consumer. As the transition evolves, I will be watching this issue carefully and I invite further discussion on the need for Commission action.

Lastly, another issue that is important to me is that any new navigation devices be able to interact with digital televisions and that these devices not impede the development of digital television in any way. The introduction of digital television is one of the most important initiatives for the Commission and I am monitoring the transition closely to ensure that American consumers receive the full benefits of the digital transition.