SCTE Expands Efforts To Set Cable's Specs

The Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers — widening its influence in an area it first entered in 1993 — will expand its standardization efforts several fold.

The SCTE, which already handles standards for cable construction, maintenance, interfaces and emergency-alert systems, will add several high-profile specifications to its plate. Those standards had been under the purview of Cable Television Laboratories Inc.

They include the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS), PacketCable, OpenCable and the Open Cable Applications Platform (OCAP). Several SCTE subcommittees will maintain the standards behind those efforts, said SCTE president and CEO John Clark.

The move opens a new chapter in SCTE's history of standards work. The trade group gained accreditation from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in 1995, and in 1996 approved its first standard: the F-connector. SCTE also is recognized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Taking the standards helm from CableLabs after specifications have been completed is a common SCTE practice. Part of that reason is because CableLabs isn't an accredited standards-setting organization and can't be, due to antitrust constraints. CableLabs also has its own set of membership parameters.

Though SCTE has close ties with cable operators, its standards work will be "open to all interested parties, so we clearly qualify as an open organization," Clark said.

That will likely put more money and mindshare behind SCTE's larger efforts.

The decision on which body should handle cable's standard-setting efforts as digital products and services emerged was made in 1999, following a CableLabs meeting in Vail, Colo.

Instead of other "outside" organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) or the Consumer Electronics Association, SCTE got the call.

That decision also means additional funding. SCTE's prior standards efforts were bankrolled by its 17,300 individual members in 70 countries, but the expanded iteration will also be funded by standards members.

Today, that group is comprised of 43 organizations and companies, including 11 of the largest U.S. MSOs and Canadian operator Rogers Cable Inc.

Adlink, the Southern California advertising-sales interconnect, also is a member due to its interest in digital-ad insertion standards, Clark said.

Those members will pay "sliding-scale" fees that range from $1,000 to $40,000, depending on the size of the company or organization. That will even the playing field, said Clark, as each member gets one vote.

Such a sizable effort also has caused the SCTE to expand its standards ranks. The latest addition to that group is vice president of standards Steve Oksala, who joined the SCTE on Jan. 31, following standards work with Unisys Corp. and a 10-year board slot at ANSI.

"We needed a standards insider," Clark said.

In addition to Oksala, SCTE's standards staff also is made up of standards administrator Kirk Siltzer, standards director Ted Woo and an administrative assistant.

Clark said the SCTE would eventually hire more staff as standards documentation procedures shift to an environment of electronic-mail reflectors and Web sites to handle the heavier workload.

SCTE will assume CableLabs' DOCSIS 1.0 maintenance role in July of this year, said Oksala. That responsibility will also include any "tweaks" made to the specification, an area CableLabs had handled up until now, Oksala added.

But product testing and certification will remain within CableLabs' domain. Nonetheless, CableLabs already plans to lighten its own DOCSIS testing load a bit by adding third parties to certify cable-modems and qualify cable-modem termination systems.

CableLabs has said it expects to hand out those DOCSIS verification licenses by the third quarter of 2001.

In the meantime, SCTE hopes to add more programmers to the ranks of its standards members. Some networks — such as Home Box Office, which falls under the AOL Time Warner Inc. umbrella — are already linked to SCTE's standards efforts because they're co-owned by MSOs, but others are not.

The addition of more programmers to an already strong mix of equipment vendors and operators will complete "the third piece of the [standards] triangle," Clark said.