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Zoom Moans About Comcast's Modem Tests

Vendor complains to the FCC that the MSO's 'Physical and Environmental' tests have harmed its ability to sell modems at retail

Jeff Baumgartner

November 29, 2010

3 Min Read
Zoom Moans About Comcast's Modem Tests

Zoom Telephonics is raising a stink at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about a new set of testing procedures at Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) that, the vendor claims, has hindered its ability to sell Docsis modems at retail.

The complaint (PDF), filed today, points the finger at a set of recently instituted Physical and Environmental (P&E) tests from the MSO that, Zoom says, vendors must pass before Comcast will allow any modems (including those purchased directly by the MSO or bought by consumers at retail) to be attached to the operator's broadband network.

According to Zoom, those P&E tests address elements such as the weight of the modem, the "strength" of the modem's packaging, and the modem's performance amid sudden changes in humidity.

Zoom, which claims to be the second-largest producer of retail cable modems (behind Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)), argues that the tests go too far and violate the FCC's Communications Act and its open Internet principles, which prevent ISPs from allowing the attachment of devices unless they are found to be causing harm to the network or facilitating theft.

Zoom says Comcast's P&E tests do not address any of those things, but are instead hamstringing the company's ability to sell Docsis 2.0 and 3.0 modems at retail outlets such as Best Buy and Staples. (See Zoom Grooms D3 Modem for Retail.)

"Comcast... has flagrantly violated the Commission's rules by infringing subscribers' rights to attach cable modems of their choice to Comcast's network," Zoom says in the complaint. The P&E test "contains a host of unreasonable, irrelevant, time-consuming, and costly requirements that curtail the availability of cable modems at retail outlets..."

Zoom also complains that Comcast is adding yet another layer to the tests its cable modems must already pass, including FCC requirements, safety testing by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and CableLabs certification testing. Once a modem passes those battery of tests, it's "extremely unlikely" that the device would harm a cable network, Zoom said.

Zoom's also upset that the P&E test regime requires manufacturers to pay for Comcast personnel to conduct "lengthy site inspections" and include costs such as business-class airfare and "expensive hotels." In all, Zoom concludes that costs associated with the P&E tests run about $40,000.

The vendor claims that the additional tests have caused delays and "significant hardship" in dealing with retail stores, which were expecting shipments of Zoom cable modem products by April 15, 2010.

Among its asks, Zoom wants the FCC to enjoin Comcast from requiring modems sold at retail to go through the P&E testing gauntlet before they can be attached to the MSO's network, and to order Comcast to publish its standards for cable modem testing and justify how they relate to whether a device will harm its network or facilitate theft.

Consumer pressure groups such as Public Knowledge and Free Press said the Zoom complaint should be considered as possible conditions are applied to Comcast's takeover of NBC Universal , and argued that it represents another example of the MSO violating the FCC's Open Internet principles. They also came out against Comcast over complaints about how it previously throttled upstream peer-to-peer traffic. (See Net Neutrality Ruling: FCC Loses, Comcast Wins, Comcast Goes 'Protocol Agnostic' Everywhere , and FCC Throttles Comcast.)

In response to the complaint, Comcast issued a statement that the MSO "wants to make sure devices our customers purchase at retail will work well and are safe, and we have not asked Zoom to submit to testing that is any different than what we ask of every other cable modem manufacturer we work with. We even offered to let Zoom do the safety testing at their own Chinese manufacturing plants, but they refused this offer."

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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