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Charter Continues Pursuit Of CableCard-Free Platform

Charter Communications has told the Federal Communications Commission it is making progress on a downloadable video security platform for set-tops and other video devices that will blaze a trail toward the post-CableCard era.

But it’s also evident that widespread commercial deployments of its new platform won’t happen anytime soon.

In a document filed with the FCC late last month, Charter told the commission that it has successfully lab-tested silicon in a prototype set-top “to refine the operation of downloadable security across two existing industry-standard conditional-access systems.” An upcoming lab test will be connected to live Charter plant, the MSO said.

Charter is keeping the FCC up to speed on its progress as the cable operator continues to develop a downloadable security system that, it said, will be open and result in less expensive, less power-hungry devices. CableCards, which allow conditional access to a signal, were born out of the 1996 Telecom Act and have never been popular with cable operators.

To assist Charter with that development, the FCC granted the Stamford, Conn.-based MSO a temporary waiver that clears it to deploy dual-security set-tops that integrate Charter’s legacy conditional-access system alongside the new, downloadable version. The new security system is expected to grace a new “World Box” that is also under development.

Charter needed the FCC waiver to sidestep the acency’s July 2007 ban on set-tops with integrated security. Cablevision Systems in 2009 received a similar waiver to aid its now-deployed downloadable security platform.

Charter, per the conditions of the waiver, said it has continued “good-faith” efforts with a CE manufacturer about development of a retail box that can use the downloadable system. Charter has not revealed that the CE company in question, though Samsung and Humax are believed to be among the candidates, but noted that “[f]urther progress awaits the finalization of the downloadable conditional-access ecosystem and its specifications.”

Charter is not the only one trotting down the post- CableCard path. Comcast and TiVo forged a commercial agreement last month that will result in a new, non-CableCard approach to video security that will enable retail-bought TiVo devices to obtain access to the MSO’s full suite of live and on-demand video products. Comcast has also pledged to continue providing and supporting CableCards in retail devices and to make its non-CableCard platform available to other cable operators “on commercially reasonable terms.”

Comcast hasn’t announced a technical solution to this, but industry sources familiar with cable’s videosecurity market envision three possible paths: a new proprietary, downloadable system for an all-IP video product; a hybrid approach that would pair an IP-based security system with one used today in Digital Transport Adapters for QAM-based video; or a new, interoperable downloadable system that would work with legacy systems. The last option is said to be an “outlier” because it would likely require the full support of Cisco Systems and Arris.

Buckeye CableSystem, meanwhile, is trying to break free of the CableCard via a waiver request that seeks allowance to deploy a hybrid box with integrated and downloadable security that, it said, would serve as the “linchpin” to an all-IP transition. The FCC has yet to act on Buckeye’s request, made on March 3.

Charter: A Daily Download

Key dates in the MSO’s pursuit of a non-CableCard approach:

Nov. 1, 2012: Charter asks FCC for temporary waiver to deploy boxes with integrated security to accelerate its all-digital deployment and pave the way for a new downloadable security platform.

April 8, 2013: The FCC grants Charter a condition-filled, two-year waiver.

Oct. 30, 2013: Charter tells the FCC it has started good faith negotiations with a CE manufacturer that intends to develop a video device for retail that uses Charter’s downloadable platform.

July 31: Charter tells FCC that lab tests and retail talks continue, noting it has deployed 1.37 million integrated security set-tops under the waiver.