The Federal Communications Commission last Friday extended a deadline that would ban cable operators from deploying digital set-tops with integrated encryption and conditional access technologies.

The original deadline was January 1, 2005. The FCC pushed the deadline to July 1, 2006. The cable industry originally had wanted the agency to remove the ban altogether.

The FCC initially called for the ban in order to permit other vendors to enter the market and to spur a retail model for the boxes.

On extending the deadline, the FCC noted that the cable and consumer electronics industries "have made, and continue to make, significant progress in the development of technical standards in this area."

The FCC specifically cited the proposed cable-CE "plug-and-play" agreement announced late last year. That agreement called for the creation of "unidirectional" set-top-free digital televisions that use point-of-deployment (POD) modules for encryption and conditional access. Cable and CE parties are currently negotiating on specs for two-way products.

The FCC said it will decide by January 2005 whether or not to ban the integrated devices. During that reassessment, the FCC has requested that the cable and CE industries provide status reports on negotiations on specs for bi-directional digital cable receivers and products at 90-, 180- and 270-day intervals.

Cable's biggest lobbying entity applauded the FCC's decision to delay the ban. "We are particularly pleased that the FCC has established a timetable to consider elimination of the rule in its entirety as it examines the development of the market for retail devices with separate security and operator support for such equipment," said Neal Goldberg, general counsel for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, in a prepared statement. "Cable operators are committed to ensuring that those retail devices work on their systems, and, with the extra time to demonstrate this, we are confident that Commission will reach that conclusion at the end of its proposed proceeding."