Cable’s got a friend in Microsoft-at least when it comes to postponing a July ’06 deadline that would require new set-tops to have CableCARDs. MSFT CTO Craig Mundie joined Comcast’s Brian Roberts and Time Warner’s Glenn Britt in urging the FCC to postpone the date by 6-18 months, an FCC filing says. The 3 spoke via conference call with chmn Michael Powell Wed. Working with cable and other industries, Britt and Roberts will deliver a plan to the FCC to deploy a common soft conditional access system that would be relied upon by all digital cable systems and available in all digital products, whether offered by cable ops, CE or IT makers. With cable moving toward 2-way plug & play and soft conditional access, the 3 execs believe implementing the deadline could unnecessarily raise prices for consumers, place cable at a cost disadvantage vs competitors and impede collaborative efforts between CE, IT and cable. Microsoft and the MSOs are committed to working together to "personally supervise" reaching a 2-way plug & play agreement next year. But CEA isn’t budging. CEO Gary Shapiro met last week with commish Kevin Martin to tout the July date.