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Intel Changes Stance on OpenCable

Intel signed a licensing agreement with Cable Television Laboratories, the cable industry’s technology consortium, under which the chip-maker will include support for the OpenCable Application Platform in future system-on-a-chip products for consumer-electronics devices.

In a related development, Microsoft and CableLabs extended their partnership by formally establishing a collaborative relationship to develop ways for two-way cable services to work on PCs.

The move by Intel -- which will allow its products to access two-way cable services such as video-on-demand -- represents an about-face from its previous position.

Along with other companies in the consumer-electronics industry, Intel had opposed CableLabs’ licensing terms for OCAP as recently as November 2006. In a letter that month to the Federal Communications Commission, the Consumer Electronics Association requested that the agency bring an end the “stalemate” in negotiations with the cable industry over licensing the technology.

In the letter, the CEA specifically requested that device makers not be required to support OCAP. “Rather than absorbing all of the cost and uncertainty associated with OCAP, competitive manufacturers would be permitted to offer functionally equivalent bidirectional products that build on existing digital-cable-compatibility technologies,” the letter said.

Intel vice president of technical policy and standards Donald M. Whiteside signed that letter, along with representatives from 11 other companies, including Sony Electronics, Microsoft, Dell, Hitachi, Mitsubishi and Philips Electronics.

Now it appears that Intel has emerged as a key partner for cable on OCAP. “The collaboration between the major cable-TV operators and Intel exemplifies and fuels the ongoing transition to digitally delivered entertainment whether through a computer, high-definition TV, smart set-top box or other networked CE device,” Eric Kim, Intel senior VP and general manager of the company’s Digital Home Group, said in Monday’s announcement.

Asked why the company dropped its opposition to OCAP, Intel spokesman Bill Kircos said, “This is a step forward for us, and we’re always advocating as many licensing agreements as possible in these areas.”

Kircos added that Intel’s agreement with CableLabs on OpenCable concerns only the chip family for CE devices it plans to introduce in 2008, “not a PC play per se, nor for our Core or Pentium processors at this point.”

CableLabs CEO Dick Green said in a prepared statement that “having Intel support the technology really brings the OpenCable platform to a new level of maturity.”

Also as part of the announcement Monday, Comcast chief technology officer Tony Werner said the operator is “committed to working with Intel to bring one or more Intel [system-on-a-chip]-based digital set-top boxes to market in the next two years.”

To date, the biggest CE-industry partners on OCAP have been LG Electronics, Panasonic and Samsung Electronics. The largest U.S. cable operators have committed to widely supporting OCAP in their systems by the end of 2008.

News of Intel’s agreement to license OCAP comes as the FCC may be ready to spur the resolution of the ongoing discussions about licensing two-way cable. The agency scheduled a public meeting for Thursday in Portland, Maine, where it plans to consider a rule related to two-way cable functionality.

Intel said its future OCAP-based products will support access to interactive program guides delivered by cable operators, plus on-screen ordering and VOD services. The devices will also include support for the CableCARD removable security devices, which is covered under a separate FCC mandate prohibiting most cable operators from deploying digital set-tops with integrated security as of July 1.