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Cable/Video

Cablevision Seeks Extended Security Waiver

Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) has requested an extended set-top waiver from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) so it can develop a more elegant "open" downloadable security system based on technologies developed by NDS Ltd. .

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's ban on integrated set-top security went into effect in July this year: The aim was to spur a competitive market for cable set-tops and digital televisions capable of delivering interactive cable services. (See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.)

Cablevision, however, is operating under a temporary waiver that allows it to continue using set-tops that employ NDS-based SmartCard technology through July 1, 2009. After that date, Cablevision is meant to migrate to an FCC-approved separable security system such as the CableCARD or a downloadable conditional access system (DCAS). (See Son of 'Waiver Central' .)

In a request filed with the FCC last Wednesday (Nov. 26), Cablevision is seeking a limited waiver extension to December 2010. The 18-month grace period, Cablevision claims, would give it enough time to complete the deployment of an "open-standard downloadable security system" that would comply with the FCC's separable security rules and "support third-party retail devices."

Without such an extension, Cablevision suggested it would have to postpone its DCAS effort because it would be forced, instead, to turn its attention to "rebuilding" its Smart Card implementation for the CableCARD format.

In addition to causing technical and operational implementation issues, "this otherwise unnecessary extra transition step would cost significant amounts of money that Cablevision would be forced to pass on to subscribers," the MSO stated in the filing.

"It would be counterproductive to saddle consumers with these costs and problems when doing so will only delay Cablevision’s ability to implement a downloadable security solution that the Commission recognizes as superior to CableCARDs."

Tests already underway
Cablevision claimed it has already begun to develop and test its own DCAS platform, and expects to place commercial orders and initiate system installations by the spring of 2009, before the MSO's existing waiver expires.

"However, because of the complexity of migrating existing security systems to the new, open, downloadable platform, it will take until the end of 2010 before this implementation is complete, when all new set-top boxes will operate on the downloadable security system," Cablevision said.

Cablevision claimed it evaluated several downloadable systems before settling on its legacy conditional access supplier, NDS.

But how can a DCAS developed by a single vendor -- NDS, in this case -- be considered "open"?

According to Cablevision, NDS is committed to making its "key ladder and related security components" available to any vendor that wishes to deploy the system "on an open basis." The MSO further points out that the NDS secure key ladder is already baked into video-decoder chips sold commercially by 10 manufacturers -- including Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), STMicroelectronics NV (NYSE: STM), and Conexant Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CNXT) -- that together offer more than 60 chip models for a range of digital televisions, set-top boxes, and PCs.

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