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CEA Chirps at Cablevision Set-Top Request

The tension between consumer gadget makers and cable network operators continues this week as the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) said it is formally opposing a set-top waiver extension request from Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) that, the MSO claims, is necessary for it to develop an “open” downloadable security system.

Cablevision filed its request with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in late November, seeking a limited waiver extension that will allow the MSO to continue using set-tops that employ NDS Ltd. -based SmartCard technology through December 2010.

The FCC has already granted Cablevision a temporary waiver that allows the operator to continue using SmartCards through July 1, 2009, after which the MSO must move to an FCC-approved separable security system such as the CableCARD or a downloadable conditional access system. The FCC ban on integrated separable security took effect on July, 1, 2007. (See Cablevision Seeks Extended Security Waiver, Son of 'Waiver Central' , and Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.)

The FCC has already held that SmartCards do not qualify for the separable security rule because significant elements of the conditional access hardware reside in the navigation device (the set-top), rather than the card itself.

In its opposition filing, the CEA argued that “Cablevision has filed, essentially, a request for a permanent extension of its temporary waiver, based on a promise to deploy, in the future, an unspecified system” that would sidestep CableCARD reliance.

Moreover, the CEA said it was not fond of the embedded, proprietary chips that would be required to run Cablevision’s downloadable conditional access platform, claiming the approach, like the SmartCard, does not satisfy the FCC’s separable security ban.

“Cablevision admits that moving to such a system would end common reliance on CableCARDs,” the CEA noted.

Cablevision was not immediately available Wednesday for a reaction to the CEA’s opposition, but, in the MSO’s original request, Cablevision pledged continued support of CableCARD technology, suggesting the NDS-based downloadable security system “harmonizes” with tru2way and CableCARD-based conditional access platforms. Cablevision is also a signatory of a “binding” tru2way memorandum of understanding originally negotiated between Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) and the top six “incumbent” U.S. cable MSOs. (See Revealed: The Tru2way MOU.)

Likewise, it appears Cablevision has already tried to address the CEA’s claims that the chips for its DCAS implementation would be proprietary. In its earlier filing, Cablevision claimed that NDS would make its “key ladder and related security components” available to any vendor that wishes to develop the system “on an open basis,” noting that chipmakers such as Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), STMicroelectronics NV (NYSE: STM), and Conexant Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CNXT) already use the NDS key ladder in their video-decoder silicon.

Assuming that the CEA’s opposition does not toss a New York-sized monkey wrench into Cablevision’s plans, the MSO has already stated that it expects its new boxes -- to be made by Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) and LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) and to utilize both tru2way and the NDS key ladder -- will be ready for field-testing by the first quarter of 2009, with initial customer deployments slated to start by July 1, 2009.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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