Security Platforms/Tools

Cable Group Faces DCAS Debate

There's a David vs. Goliath-like scrum underway at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) .

Beyond Broadband Technology LLC (BBT) , a consortium of small operators that's developing an "open" downloadable conditional access system (DCAS), is in pitched battle with the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) about whether BBT's platform conforms with the agency's ban on set-tops with integrated security.

The short of it: The CEA -- which would be the Goliath side here -- contends that operators deploying BBT's DCAS must obtain a special waiver from the FCC. (See Son of 'Waiver Central' .) BBT argues that its approach passes the FCC smell test with flying colors and adheres to the ban, which went into effect last July. (See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.)

BBT, a venture backed by WinDBreak Cable , Buford Media Group, and Tele-Media Broadband, has started a small technical trial in WinDBreak's cable system in Lyman, Neb. Following additional field trials, BBT hopes to start commercial deployments in September or October. Although the initial system will be one-way, the venture has acknowledged it has a roadmap for two-way devices. (See BBT: Tru2way? No Problem .)

Although the FCC noted in January 2007 that BBT's approach falls within the guidelines of the integration ban, the CEA doesn't see it that way.

In a June 18 filing, for example, the organization expressed that a BBT-based "implementation without a waiver should be subject to an enforcement action by the Commission."

BBT, in an ex parte dated July 15, 2008, attempts to shoot down a litany of issues CEA has with BBT's approach, arguing that the organization is "mischaracterizing" BBT's downloadable security platform.

For starters, BBT wonders if the CEA might get a better read on the situation if it got some hands-on time with the technology. BBT claimed the CEA has "spurned" invitations to discuss the technology and the terms of its licenses. CEA officials were not available Friday for comment.

The cable consortium likewise counters the CEA's position that BBT's system is proprietary. BBT says its DCAS is designed to support any conditional access system that's deemed compatible with the so-called BBTSolution, which employs a $5 secure microchip. In comparison, a CableCARD interface (including hardware and licenses) carries a wholesale cost of more than $35, according to BBT.

BBT plans to market a conditional access system of its own, dubbed BBT Heavy, but claims that operators can use a CA from another provider. Further, no CA, including BBT Heavy, will be pre-loaded onto the secure chip, BBT said. BBT, however, has yet to name any third-party CA partners.

BBT also points out that its system, like the CableCARD interface, is not itself a conditional access system. But the CEA, in a June 20 filing, contends that the BBTSolution could "lock out" CableCARD devices. BBT countered this week that its secure micro "can easily be incorporated into a CableCARD," and BBT has "every intention" of doing so, but did not indicate when.

In another point-counterpoint situation, the CEA claims the BBT approach doesn’t comply with the ban because it's not nationally portable and, therefore, does not satisfy the FCC's "common reliance" rule.

In response, BBT holds that strict adherence to such a rule is a myth, partly because today there is no portability across all cable, satellite, and telco TV providers.

"The CEA's interpretation of the Commission's rules would freeze technology -- nothing could supplant the CableCARD unless 100 percent of all operators agreed in advance to deploy it and equipment manufacturers agreed to support it as well," BBT's argument reads.

Even the much-ballyhooed tru2way memorandum of understanding (MOU) negotiated by Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) and some of the nation's largest cable MSOs doesn’t address service providers outside of cable, at least not yet. (See Sony Supports tru2way and Revealed: The Tru2way MOU.)

The cable industry, however, has expressed interest in extending tru2way support beyond its own borders. (See Brenner Defends OpenCable .) Of recent note, CableLabs president and CEO Dr. Richard Green urged telcos at NXTcomm 2008 to consider adopting tru2way, a platform that presently relies on the CableCARD host-interface system. (See Telcos: Climb Aboard the Tru2way Train.)

BBT isn't the only cable venture working on DCAS. PolyCipher LLC , a JV backed by Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), and Cox Communications Inc. , is in development as well, although implementation has been handed over to Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and NDS Ltd. . (See Cisco, Moto Take Control of DCAS .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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