CEA Asks FCC To Review CableCard Rule
Trade Group Reiterates Opposition To MPAA's Selectable-Output Control Waiver Request
by John Eggerton & Todd Spangler 9/16/2009 2:52:25 PM EDT

The Consumer Electronics Association has asked the FCC to review whether the agency's rule requiring cable operators to use CableCards in their own set-tops is achieving the goal of spurring competition for retail cable-ready devices.

On Sept. 14, CEA officials met with Media Bureau chief Bill Lake and bureau staffers. The trade group proposed the commission initiate a rulemaking to assess whether the objectives of a Communications Act provision designed to promote a retail market in cable devices are being met, according to an ex parte filing.

Among other things, the CEA asked the FCC to seek comment on whether "the common reliance rule in its current form sufficiently safeguards competition in the retail device market as operators roll out new technology platforms and services," CEA VP of Regulatory Affairs James Hedlund wrote in the filing.

The FCC banned cable operators from deploying set-tops with integrated security functions, a rule that went into effect in July 2007, with the aim of furthering competition in the retail market. Currently, a separate CableCard serves the purpose of separating those functions, but the FCC recognized that a downloadable system would be more elegant, once developed. The FCC has also granted a number of waivers recently for low-cost boxes that integrate security and channel surfing functions.

The CEA also "urged the Commission to develop specific criteria that a downloadable conditional access system would have to meet before it could be considered as a successor to CableCard," Hedlund wrote in the filing.

Cablevision Systems is deploying a downloadable conditional access system, after the operator received a waiver extension to the separable-security rule from the FCC. The CEA opposed the Cablevision waiver.

In addition, the CEA in its meeting with the Media Bureau reiterated its opposition to the movie industry's request for a waiver of FCC rules so it can deliver HD movies to cable operators in advance of their DVD window.

The FCC has a prohibition on selectable output controls (SOC) on set-top boxes, but the studios want to be able to selectively prohibit the copying of HD movies they want to deliver to homes via multichannel-video providers before they are released on DVD.

In the filing Hedlund said that if the FCC were to grant the Motion Picture Association of America's waiver request, more than 20 million HDTVs "would no longer function as they did when originally purchased." He said that would be "inconsistent with the Commission's reasoning in adopting the encoding rules."

Hedlund and Brian Markwalter, the CEA's vice president of technology and standards, met with Media Bureau officials.