While cable operators are white-knuckling the wheel on the way to the July 1 Federal Communications Commission‘s deadline that mandates cable operators can no longer deploy digital set-top boxes with embedded security, Motorola has come up with a solution for downloadable security.

Last week representatives from Motorola met with FCC officials to discuss the company’s downloadable security solution, which is called Downloadable Media Cipher (DM). The same day, March 20, Motorola penned a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin that outlined the DM solution.

In part, the letter to the FCC said: "Motorola’s DM satisfies the Commission’s goal of a low-cost downloadable security solution that separates the conditional access function from the STB while avoiding the costs associated with hardware solutions for the physical separation of the security. The DM solution thus supports operator and Commission efforts to provide consumers the lowest cost option for receiving the benefits of digital programming and assists operators in transitioning to all digital networks, thereby freeing up much needed capacity for broadband and digital programming. Importantly, consistent with the Commission’s goal of ‘common reliance,’ Motorola will make DM available for licensing to consumer electronics manufacturers for downloading to any navigation device, whether the device is offered by cable operators for lease or at retail for sale."

Motorola said it would continue to develop its CableCard line – the full line of CableCard set-top boxes was rolled out at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year – as well as a broad line of CableCard navigation devices.

Obviously, the news is significant for cable operators as they rush to meet the July 1 deadline to deploy set-top boxes with CableCards. Most MSOs consider the CableCard an expensive stopgap measure that will eventually be replaced by downloadable conditional access (DCAS). Motorola’s letter to the FCC seems to imply that the DM solution is ready, but some cable operator employees don’t think it will be ready for deployment this year. (Motorola did not respond to inquiries about DM by deadline.)

Motorola said in the letter that DM would work with its existing MediaCipher networks and systems, which means those networks wouldn’t have to upgrade their headends to deploy DM. CableCards costly Cable operators can apply to the FCC for a waiver on the July 1, or 7/07, deadline, but earlier this year Comcast’s application was turned down. The FCC said it would defer enforcement of the deadline for small operators who can demonstrate that they’ve placed orders for the set-top boxes that comply with the separable security mandate, but won’t have their orders fulfilled in time to meet the deadline.

Even though Motorola’s solution is designed to provide relief from the onerous demands of the CableCard mandate, cable operators who have filed for a waiver but haven’t heard back from the FCC still have to work toward the July 1 deadline in earnest, along with operators whose waivers were turned down.

"From a cost standpoint, this (FCC mandate) is a pretty significant impact for an operator of our size," said Bresnan Communications Vice President Strategic Engineering Pragash Pillai. "We’re between a rock and hard place because this is something that is being forced down our throats."

The FCC’s integration ban was partly based on an effort to have low-cost set-top boxes available for purchase in retail outlets, which pretty much rings hollow for some small and medium-sized cable operators.

"I’m not so sure of the real benefit of retail because we have a very rural market," Pillai said. "You need to put this into perspective: There’s a big difference between Buffalo, Wyoming, and Buffalo, New York. When retail is so far away for these people to get the retail devices, I don’t see a benefit at this point for the CableCard platform."

Pillai said the CableCard boxes will cost not only the cable operators more money, but also the end users because the increased cost will be passed down to them. Clock is ticking for Bresnan Bresnan filed for a waiver from the July 1 deadline in late December last year, but hasn’t heard back from the FCC yet on whether the waiver will be granted. In the meantime, the company is testing Motorola equipment in its lab in Billings in order to try to meet the July deadline.

Pillai said the lab’s DAC headend has been upgraded to 3.1.x, and its centralized headend will see the same upgrade when Bresnan is ready to deploy. It has ordered the set-top boxes, but hasn’t completed end-to-end testing of the host set-top.

The host device requires new firmware from Motorola, an M-card and DAC 3.1.x for testing, according to Pillai.

"Along with the Motorola software modules, we also need to include our guide and VOD applications for end-to-end testing," Pillai said. "We’re going to support the legacy mode on the 7/07 deadline – legacy guide and legacy VOD client – but we’ll have the infrastructure in place for when OCAP applications become more robust and it’s viable for a smaller operator like us." – Mike Robuck

The Daily

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