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Nagra Critical of Cablevision Security Plan

Nagravision SA says a waiver extension that grants Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) more time to develop a downloadable set-top security system based largely on technology from rival NDS Ltd. should be amended to include a provision that results in a "single, commonly used" platform.

In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week, Nagravision said it's in favor of a downloadable conditional access system (DCAS) that complies with an integrated set-top security ban that went into effect in July 2007, but insists that "a combined effort of all stakeholders is required" if the goal is to create a system that works with multiple MSOs and can be integrated with retail set-tops and other devices. (See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.)

In January, the FCC's Media Bureau awarded Cablevision a waiver extension that allows the MSO to continue using SmartCard-based set-top security through 2010. Cablevision's waiver originally was set to expire on July 1, 2009, but the MSO said it needed 18 extra months to develop and deploy a DCAS based on the NDS "key ladder" (K-LAD). (See Cablevision Seeks Extended Security Waiver, and Cablevision Scores Set-Top Waiver Extension .)

Nagravision, an NDS competitor, is the latest party to criticize the Cablevision effort. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has fought the plan from the start. Most recently, the CEA requested a full Commission review of the waiver extension, claiming the Media Bureau "overstepped its authority," and did not provide enough time for public comment on the matter. (See Cablevision Waiver Catches More Heat.)

CEA has also argued that Cablevision's downloadable approach would end common reliance on CableCARDs, a module that many U.S. MSOs are using today to separate security in digital boxes and some digital cable-ready TVs. (See CEA Chirps at Cablevision Set-Top Request .)

Nagravision, meanwhile, isn't buying into NDS's offer to license K-LAD on a royalty-free basis.

"Approval of a downloadable security system developed by one security vendor in connection [with] one operator is far from an ideal way to achieve a system that can be deployed across many cable systems and integrated into devices to be sold at retail," Nagravision said.

Nagravision acknowledged that the Cablevision approach "may have merit" if wider adoption by other MSOs is assured. But without such guarantees, Nagravision fears that a variety of different "and perhaps incompatible" security systems could emerge if Cablevision is permitted to move forward as-is.

Nagravision instead proposed that standards be built around a DCAS or, at the very least, that a common platform be created that can accept downloadable security systems from different conditional access vendors.

U.S. cable industry was headed in that direction with PolyCipher LLC , a DCAS joint venture backed by Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. , and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC). That project, however, has been placed on the backburner. (See DCAS Can Wait and Cisco, Moto Take Control of DCAS .)

Beyond Broadband Technology LLC (BBT) , another cable consortium, has developed an "open" DCAS, and recently notched its first installation -- with Cable Nebraska/Cable USA. (See BBT Notches First Install .)

Cablevision strikes back
Cablevision chirped up on the FCC docket this week as well, objecting to the CEA's request for a full Commission review.

Cablevision argued that the Media Bureau's original decision is consistent with FCC policy for granting waivers to facilitate the deployment of downloadable security.

"Indeed, of the more than 150 integration ban waivers granted by the Bureau, none so closely matches policies articulated by the full Commission as does Cablevision's," the MSO stated.

Cablevision also countered that the public had adequate notice to comment on the DCAS proposal. The MSO further argued that that public notice isn't even required, anyway, because waiver cases are adjudications rather than rulemakings.

As for the CEA's CableCARD argument, Cablevision noted that it supports more than 16,000 CableCARD modules today and fully intends to continue supporting CableCARD-based devices "regardless of this waiver."

Under terms accepted by the FCC's Media Bureau, Cablevision is to start DCAS deployments this summer and complete the job by 2010. The MSO has agreed to pay up to $5,000 per day if it should miss any of its DCAS deployment milestones.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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