BBT Wants In On FCC’s Set-Top Action

Asks To Be Part Of Working Group Focused On CableCARD Successor
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Count Beyond Broadband Technology (BBT) among the organizations that are willing to help the FCC and its Chairman, Tom Wheeler, pursue a successor to the CableCARD.

BBT, a cable-backed consortium founded in 2005 that has developed a downloadable security system for set-tops and other devices, has already contacted the Chairman’s office to let it be known that BBT would like to be part of the working group that ends up tackling the task, Steve Effros, a BBT partner and its director of strategic development and communications, told Multichannel News in an email.

Effros, the former head of industry lobbying group once known as the Cable Telecommunications Association (CATA) and who is currently a regular CableFAX columnist, noted that the BBTSolution, the organization's security platform, can be made to support a range of platforms, including IP and QAM, among others. And while BBT’s initial focus was on the set-top box, the company has been exploring broader applications of its technology. In its FAQ, BBT holds that if BBTSolution chips were included in smart TVs or devices such as Roku boxes, TiVo DVRs, Apple TVs boxes, or even Chromecast streaming adapters, then any OTT streaming video programmer could allow consumers to use those devices while maintaining full security of their programs while also assuring privacy and confidentiality of their customer lists.

In addition to Effros, BBT’s principals include Bill Bauer, CEO/CTO of WinDBreak Cable, InterTECH Corp. and Digital Freedom Technology LLC; Ben Hooks, CEO of Buford Media Group; and Tony Swain, COO of Buford Satellite Systems, and president and CEO of Tele-Media Broadband Company.

As reported by Multichannel News, Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Monday (November 24) that they have been assured by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that he will move quickly in coming up with a new plan for creating a competitive set-top box market. That assurance followed the passage last week of a satellite reauthorization bill that eliminated the FCC's integrated cable set-top box ban, which took effect in July 2007 but has failed to generate a competitive retail market for set-tops and other video devices that support MVPD services. The set-top security ban will sunset a year after the bill is enacted.

"Recognizing the near-term enactment of STELAR, I plan to direct the Commission staff to establish the Working Group as quickly as possible," Wheeler said. 

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association wanted the elimination of the set-top security ban to be part of the bill, but it has argued that the FCC should let the market, rather than more government mandates, determine the future path of video devices.  

As for BBT, it secured a core patent for its downloadable security technology about a year ago, and claims that its approach eliminates the need for a “trusted authority” or storing any keys, meaning the transmission provider of the video or data remains in total control of the authentication, conditional access and encryption of the content.

Last June, BBT told Multichannel News (subscription required) that 21 cable systems were in the process of deploying BBT’s platform, and that it had delivered about 1,000 set-tops for the early phase of deployment and testing. The first batch of boxes used a secure microchip from STMicroelectronics. In 2007, the FCC approved BBT's approach as an acceptable approach to separable set-top security.

Since then, other MSOs have obtained FCC waivers that have paved the way for downloadable approaches that don't rely on CableCARD modules. Cablevision Systems locked in its waiver in 2009, and Charter Communications obtained its FCC waiver last April. As a condition of its waiver, Charter agreed that it would engage in good faith negotiations with a CE manufacturer that intends to develop a box to be sold at retail that uses Charter’s downloadable security.  

In July, Charter told the FCC it had successfully lab-tested silicon in a prototype set-top aimed at refining the operation of downloadable security across two existing standard conditional access systems, and expected to follow with a lab trial that was connected to live plant.