Stage Set for CableCard’s Successor

With the end of the CableCard regime a foregone conclusion, the Federal Communications Commission is moving rapidly on a plan to seek out a more elegant, and hopefully less expensive, downloadable approach to removable security for set-top boxes and other types video devices that could be sold at retail.

This time around, the aim is higher. Rather than targeting just cable operators, the FCC plans an approach thant could be applied to other types of multichannel video programming distributors.

The FCC is tackling this task following the passage last December of the STELAR Act, which activated a provision that will sunset after a year the regulator’s current ban on set-tops with integrated security. The act calls on the agency to seek out a successor.

The FCC’s first move was to form the Downloadable Security Technical Advisory Committee (DSTAC). The DSTAC, announced Jan. 28, is made up of 18 members, including executives from Comcast, Amazon, Google, Dish Network and TiVo (see sidebar).

The DSTAC’s role is to identify, report and recommend technologies and standards that can result in a uniform and technology-neutral, software-based downloadable security system that is “not unduly burdensome” and to stoke competition for navigation devices, including set-tops and televisions. The first of DSTAC meetings is set for Tuesday, Feb. 17. The DSTAC is directed to file a report with the FCC by Sept. 4.

Heading into that process, some are concerned the FCC has already travelled this route with the CableCard, which fell well short of its objectives, creating a regime that became a costly distraction for the cable industry.

Despite its present ambitious intentions, the FCC is also faced with the fact that several MVPDs are already pushing ahead with disparate non-CableCard approaches, which could make coming up with an all-encompassing solution a significant challenge for the commission.

The CableCard failed to spark a robust market for cable-ready retail devices, and the numbers continue to show it. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, in its latest report on the topic to the FCC, said the nation’s top nine incumbent cable operators have deployed more than 51.5 million CableCards in MSO-supplied set-top boxes versus 620,000 of the security modules in retail- bought devices such as TiVo DVRs.


A big question as the committee meetings get underway is how much influence the nation’s independent cable operators will have in the proceeding. The American Cable Association, which represents the interests of smaller cable operators, was concerned about the committee’s lack of representation from independent operators.

“We were hopeful that the FCC would recognize the value of having a smaller cable operator participate on the committee — after all, there will be hundreds of operators that may have to live with the decisions of this committee,” Ted Hearn, the ACA’s vice president of communications, said in a statement to Multichannel News. “We are hopeful that the committee will now work in a transparent manner, giving parties not serving on the committee, particularly smaller cable operators, an informal opportunity to participate and shape the committee’s final report.”

Securing a Spot

Here’s who’s been appointed to the Downloadable Security Technology Advisory Committee:

• Ahmad Ansari, Director of New Product Development, AT&T Labs;

• Brant Candelore, Senior Staff Member, Sony Electronics;

• John Card II, Director of Standards and Technology, EchoStar Technologies, LLC (Dish Network);

• Matthew Clark, Principal, Business Development Digital Products, Amazon;

• Bob Clyne, Senior VP of Engineering and New Technologies, Cablevision Systems;

• Adam Goldberg, Principal, AGP, LLC/Public Knowledge;

• Mark Hess, Senior VP, Office of the Chief Technology Officer, Business and Industry Affairs, Comcast Cable;

• Brad Love, Chief Technologist, Hauppauge Computer Works;

• Kenneth Lowe, VP and Co-Founder, Vizio;

• John McCoskey, EVP, Global Policy and External Affairs, Motion Picture Association of America;

• Bruce McClelland, President, Network & Cloud and Global Services, Arris;

• Milo Medin, VP, Access Services, Google;

• Alan Messer, VP, Advanced Technology, Samsung’s Advanced Technology Lab;

• Jay Rolls, Senior VP and CTO, Charter Communications;

• Simha Sethumadhavan, Associate Professor of Computer Science & Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, Columbia University;

• Brent Smith, President and CTO, Evolution Digital;

• Joseph Weber, Chief Technical Officer, Service Provider business unit, TiVo;

• Robin Wilson, VP, Business Development, Nagra.

Cheryl Tritt of Wilkinson, Barker, Knauer will serve as chair of the DSTAC. Brendan Murray and Nancy Murphy of the FCC’s Media Bureau will serve as its Designated Federal Officer and Alternate Designated Federal Officer, respectively.