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CEA Continues CableCARD Fight

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) are again crossing swords over important details related to downloadable conditional access (DCAS), a separable security method that could unseat the CableCARD. (See Show Me the M-Card!)

In comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Monday, the U.S. cable industry's biggest pressure group argued against CEA contentions that there can be "one, and only one" security solution. The squabble also extends to licensing terms for the CableLabs DCAS license. On both fronts, "CEA's concerns are misplaced and must be rejected," the NCTA argued.

The latest tiff originates from the CEA's recent opposition to a waiver request submitted by a batch of telcos, which included Wellman Cooperative Telephone association and NTS Communications.

The telcos believe they are in line for a waiver because their middleware partners use a downloadable conditional access (CA) system supplied by Widevine Technologies Inc. , but those partners so far have not been willing to confirm whether this particular CA implementation complies with the FCC-mandated integration ban, which took effect July 1, 2007. (See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.)

NCTA said it had no qualms about the waiver request "except to reiterate that the Commission should not favor one video technology over another in granting waivers." Further, the agency disagreed with the CEA's assertion that only one "nationally standard interface" is required to spawn a flourishing retail set-top market.

On that point, the NCTA called the CEA's position erroneous, pointing to the FCC Media Bureau's "prior endorsement" of a downloadable security platform being developed by Beyond Broadband Technology LLC (BBT) , which is being headed up by three cable operators: WinDBreak Cable , Buford Media Group, and Tele-Media Broadband. (See BBT Exits Alpha and Small Cablers Plan Sub-$100 Set-Tops.)

PolyCipher LLC -- a joint venture of Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. , and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) -- is also tackling DCAS. According to the filing, the U.S. cable industry has spent $30 million of a $100 million initial three-year commitment to DCAS development, and most of those funds presumably are being funneled to the PolyCipher project. NCTA said "Phase 1" DCAS chips have already been developed and tested, and development of the "Phase 2" DCAS ASIC chip is underway.

"The Bureau also indicated that IP, ATM, and IP/QAM networks should develop their own downloadable solution(s)." the NCTA added. It's said that a new set-top box request for proposal from Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) will also seek the creation of a downloadable security system that will ensure the telco is in compliance with the integration ban once Verizon's present waiver expires. (See Verizon Set-Top RFP Could Be Worth Billions and Verizon & Others Get Their Waivers.)

The NCTA also countered what CEA believes to be ideal license terms for downloadable security. Among them, CEA wants them to be modeled after the DFAST license, which is a component of the December 2002 one-way Plug & Play agreement. DFAST (an acronym for Dynamic Feedback Arrangement Scrambling Technique) is a copy protection technique originally proprietary to Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT). The license gives vendors the "secrets" for DFAST and, therefore, the ability to implement it in support of one-way CableCARD-capable devices, including some models of digital television sets and set-tops.

The NCTA relayed that it and several CE companies -- including Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE), Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC), Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V. , Sharp Electronics Corp. , Thomson S.A. (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453), and Toshiba Corp. (Tokyo: 6502) , among others -- had agreed that the DFAST license "was applicable only to lower value one-way linear broadcast content" and would not apply to more advanced interactive digital cable products.

The lobbying arm also argued that CEA's issues with the licensing terms "are plainly out of step with market reality," noting that more than 90 DCAS agreements have been "successfully negotiated in the private marketplace," and 17 full DCAS licenses have already been awarded.

"There is no reason to undo those licenses," the NCTA concluded.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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