Verizon to ‘Enhance’ CableCard for IP Video

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Verizon Communications has initiated a development project--under the aegis of a telecommunications-industry association--to build hooks for Internet Protocol video on top of CableCard technology.

The goal: to let Verizon’s FiOS TV service comply with the Federal Communications Commission’s ban on set-tops with integrated security functions.

In June, the telco won a reprieve from the FCC until Dec. 31, 2009, on low-end set-top models, but the FCC gave Verizon only until July 2008 to bring set-tops with high-definition and digital video recorder features into compliance.

Verizon appealed that ruling last month, complaining to the FCC that the company would have to “expend enormous resources” developing a separate-security solution for its hybrid architecture that combines traditional cable MPEG for broadcast video with IP for video-on-demand.

But because the FCC may decline to give Verizon another extension, the telco has started expending resources to meet the July 2008 deadline.

The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions, at Verizon’s behest, formed a working group in June to “fast-track” the creation of two solutions for IP-based separable security. The project was disclosed in an FCC filing last month.

The first ATIS solution--targeted to be finished by July 2008, when Verizon would be required to comply--would leverage the CableLabs-developed CableCard specification, allowing IP-based video and data to be authorized and decrypted by a removable CableCard device. ATIS expects to also develop support for interactive IP-based applications including VOD, electronic program guides and pay-per-view video.

The second initiative, which ATIS is aiming to complete by December 2008, would create an “alternative” downloadable-security specification to cable’s Downloadable Conditional Access System, which is still in development.

Tim Jeffries, ATIS’s vice president for technology and business development, said the group was basing its work on CableCard because, “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel--we want to build on what’s currently available.” ATIS’s proposed IP/CableCard solution, he added, will be backward-compatible with the existing unidirectional CableCard specification.

In addition, according to Jeffries, consumer-electronics vendors are looking for a single set of universal separable-security standards, so they don’t have to produce telco- and cable-specific devices.

“The suppliers want a one-solution-fits-all approach,” he said. Several CE companies are members of the ATIS working group, including Hitachi, LG Electronics, Samsung, Scientific Atlanta and Sony Electronics.

Verizon vice president of federal regulatory affairs David Young said the telephone company was “instrumental” in getting the CableCard-extension project off the ground.

“The main underlying goal is to ensure a standard is produced that works with any provider’s network,” Young said.

In a statement, CableLabs said it has not yet been contacted by ATIS (pronounced “ADD-iss”) about the IP-extension project.

“We cannot comment meaningfully on their proposal, as we only have the limited information available from their filing,” the R&D group said. “CableLabs is interested in exploring solutions that work for all [multichannel video programming distributors], as well as learning more about the ATIS proposals regarding CableCard and Downloadable Conditional Access System.”

Jeffries said ATIS has not yet hammered out details about licensing intellectual property associated with CableCard technology. “We want to certainly ensure that we correspond with those groups that are stakeholders in this,” he said.

The FCC ban on integrated set-top security, which most cable operators have been required to fully comply with starting July 1, is intended to improve interoperability with third-party CableCard devices by forcing providers to rely on the same standards.

AT&T, meanwhile, continues to assert that IPTV providers shouldn’t be forced to comply with the FCC mandate for separable set-top security.

That’s because, according to comments AT&T filed with the agency last month, telephone companies have market-based incentives to work with consumer-electronics companies as new entrants to multichannel video.

“The cable industry… has grown up with proprietary industry-centric standards, and the provision of set-top equipment has been a significant part of its business plan,” AT&T said.

“AT&T has no interest in becoming the exclusive supplier of equipment for its video service,” the telco’s filing continued. “There is no reason to believe that IP video providers will exhibit the same reluctance to enable consumer availability that the commission has experienced with cable operators and their suppliers.”

The FCC has not officially addressed whether AT&T must comply with the set-top security requirement, but it granted a waiver until Dec. 31, 2009, to providers that are “all-digital” or pledge to be by the February 2009 digital TV transition date.

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