The Federal Communications Commission is close to finalizing the companies and organizations that will comprise a new technology committee that will help the agency pursue a successor to the CableCARD, the removable security module that failed to spark a robust retail market for cable-ready set-tops and other video devices.
The FCC has not announced its final selections, but more than a dozen companies and organizations, including Comcast and Charter Communications, have been picked to participate on the committee, according to multiple industry sources.
The FCC began to seek nominations for the group – called the Downloadable Security Technical Advisory Committee (DSTAC) – on December 4, 2014, the day before the STELAR Act became law, activating a provision that will sunset the FCC’s ban on integrated set-tops after a year.
The FCC is now required to seek a successor to the CableCARD regime. Toward that end, the DSTAC’s mission is “to identify, report, and recommend performance objectives, technical capabilities, and technical standards of a not unduly burdensome, uniform, and technology- and platform-neutral software-based downloadable security system," according to the public notice. The DSTAC, which will meet for a full day once a month in Washington, D.C., is also expected file a report on its findings with the FCC before September 2015.
The FCC has not yet announced the members of the committee, but is expected to do so soon. According to industry sources, the following list includes organizations and companies and, in some cases, the individuals, that have been tapped to represent them on the committee:
-Charter Communications (Jay Rolls, senior vice president and chief technology officer)
-Comcast (Mark Hess, SVP, business and industry affairs)
-Cablevision Systems (Bob Clyne, senior vice president of engineering)
-Evolution Digital (Brent Smith, president and CTO)
-Motion Picture Association of America
While one source said it’s possible that the FCC might add a couple more to the committee, noticeably absent from that list now are organizations such as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, American Cable Association, the Consumer Electronics Association, and CableLabs, which took over the downloadable conditional access system (DCAS) initiative started by PolyCipher, a joint venture formed about a decade ago by Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications, several years ago.
Also not on the list at last check are Cisco Systems, which is working with Charter and Cablevision on their respective DCAS deployments, DirecTV, and Verizon Communications.
Coming Up Short
Two organizations that previously acknowledged that they requested to be part of the new committee – the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) and Beyond Broadband Technology (BBT) – apparently did not get asked to participate.
The DLNA told Multichannel News during a meeting at International CES that it submitted a request to be part of DSTAC. DLNA is the group behind VidiPath, the brand name for a set of technical guidelines (also referred to as “CVP-2”) that allow subscription TV content from multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) to be supported on retail-bought devices, including set-tops, gaming consoles, tablets and PCs. Comcast, Time Warner Cable, CableLabs and Cox Communications are among the MSOs that are backing VidiPath.
BBT, a cable-backed consortium that has developed a downloadable security system, also sought to participate in the committee but apparently did not make the cut, either. BBT, which has been working mostly with small operators, recently voiced its concerns about not being selected, and urged the FCC to reconsider adding BBT chief technology officer Bill Bauer to the committee, arguing that “small systems are simply not represented.”
BBT held that the committee requires more balance as there is “no one in the working group who operates or is intimately familiar with the unique technological needs and burdens of small cable television systems,” Tony Swain, COO of BBT, said in this letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler dated Jan. 20, 2015. Bauer, he wrote, is “well known as a small system operator and advocate on the issued facing those operators.”
In an extended statement to the FCC that amplifies its position, BBT noted that its security system has been implemented an in “limited use” in the field. BBT said its platform, approved by the FCC as an acceptable form of separable security back in 2007 when the ban took effect, is different than other DCAS methods because its patented “symmetrical key” approach does not rely on a “trusted authority” or another intermiediary party to protect their data.
That means there is no entity holding the “private keys” that can be stolen, the consortium argued. “This may be critical to cross-industry acceptance,” added BBT, which was founded in 2005 by Bauer, who is CEO/CTO of WinDBreak Cable, InterTECH Corp. and Digital Freedom Technology LLC; Ben Hooks, CEO of Buford Media Group; and Swain, COO of Buford Satellite Systems, and president and CEO of Tele-Media Broadband Company.
Downloadable Security Roundup
Meanwhile, several U.S. cable operator and suppliers that are said to be part of the committee also have projects underway that extend beyond the CableCARD and factor in downloadable solutions. Here’s a brief glance at some of that activity.
-Cablevision Systems has deployed a downloadable security system that uses the NDS (now Cisco) Key Ladder (KLAD) for the hardware root of trust, which has been made available on an open, royalty-free basis.
-Charter Communications has begun deployments of a downloadable security platform that uses the same open architecture as Cablevision’s. Its new Worldbox – currently sourced to Cisco and Humax – will support the new downloadable system.
-Last summer, Comcast and TiVo announced they would collaborate on a non-CableCARD security platform that would enable TiVo retail devices to access the MSO’s full lineup of linear programming as well as the MSO’s VOD service, but have not revealed any technical detail about the project. TiVo recently blogged about the future of the CableCARD and the Comcast project, noting that '[l]onger term, we want to transition with the cable industry to a more modern, IP-based cardless security solution." As part of its agreement with TiVo, Comcast also committed to continue providing and supporting CableCARDs in retail devices
-Buckeye CableSystem is developing a hybrid QAM/IP box with Evolution Digital that would use integrated security and a downloadable DRM system developed by Azuki Systems (now part of Ericsson) that the MSO would use as the “linchpin” of Buckeye’s all-IP transition. The device under development is a digital transport adapter (DTA) with an IP video interface. The QAM side would use integrated security, while the IP side would rely on a separate downloadable security system.