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Downloadable CAS Ready for Primetime

The cable industry told the Federal Communications Commission Thursday that it expects to roll out downloadable conditional-access systems for interactive digital-cable-ready devices by July 1, 2008.

The commitment is the latest development in the two-way talks between the cable and consumer-electronics industries, and it serves as a leapfrog step beyond current CableCard initiatives.

The cable and consumer-electronics industries struck an accord two years ago allowing for one-way cable features, activated by CableCards, to be built into TV sets. Such technology eliminated the need for consumers to lease set-top boxes.

But the deal covered only one-way services, so cable operators did not heavily market the feature, since consumers could not access interactive program guides or video-on-demand.

Some 80,000 CableCards have been deployed in the last 18 months. During that time, the cable and consumer-electronics industries sought common ground on two-way CableCard talks.

While those talks went on, Panasonic Consumer Electronics, Samsung Electronics America Inc., LG Electronics Inc. and Digeo Inc. signed two-way deals with Cable Television Laboratories Inc. under the CableCard Host Interface Licensing Agreement banner.

Those deals allow TV set-top manufacturers to build IDCR TVs, capable of supporting IPGs and VOD via a two-way CableCard. The moves by these major TV manufacturers to sign unilateral two-way deals and improvements in downloadable security methods have lessened the pressure for the cable and consumer-electronics industries to reach an omnibus two-way deal, similar to the one-way accord.

In its Thursday filing with the FCC, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association suggested that the agency take the current two-way CHILA agreements with the vendors mentioned above and make them the de facto standard for all two-way deals for such manufacturers as Sony Corp. and Sharp Electronics Corp.

The commitment to downloadable security in a little more than 30 months obviates the need for any kind of CableCard. DCAS will increase the number of set-top suppliers, the NCTA said, since DCAS would only require a software download to any DCAS-enabled set-top or TV.

“DCAS can replace the existing and more expensive CableCard-based ‘separate security’ system for retail IDCR devices, thereby making such equipment more affordable at retail,” the NCTA said.

The trade group added that the largest MSOs have committed to launching the OpenCable Applications Platform in 2006, with completion scheduled for July 1, 2009. The commitment covers 750-megahertz systems with 5,000 or more subscribers.

“The cable industry is committing to deploy OCAP over a three-year period to give assurances to consumer-electronics manufacturers that televisions or other IDCR devices built to OCAP and OpenCable specifications will work nationwide,” the NCTA said.