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CEA calls NCTA retail initiative 'disappointing'

Wed, 10/10/2001 - 8:00pm
Anne Kerven

The Consumer Electronics Association weighed in on NCTA's retail set-top initiative by expressing "disappointment."

"The announcement doesn't come close to meeting the intent of Congress," CEA VP of Technology Policy Michael Petricone said in a statement. "Neither the spirit nor the letter of the law have been met."

"I'm not sure what they mean by down the road," says spokesman Jeff Joseph, to questions about whether the initiative is a good start. "Consumers need to be able to walk into a retail outlet and have a choice of cable boxes," he says. "Now there's only the choice of renting or buying the same box."

Petricone says the only change to emerge from yesterday's NCTA announcement is "an extension of their cable monopoly to the retail store shelf where proprietary boxes with embedded security will fill every row."

NCTA yesterday outlined a four-point initiative in an open letter to U.S. Federal Communications Chair Michael K. Powell. The letter detailed the proposal — specifically that NCTA would back cable operator efforts to "encourage" set-top manufacturers, via retailers, to provide customers with the same boxes and embedded security that cable operators get — and "as soon as possible."

A key suggestion entails having operators buy back boxes from consumers who move outside of that franchise area, subject to such conditions as the boxes' condition, whether it could still be leased in the area, and evidence of a move from the area. Exact terms would be up to operators, but NCTA assumes the buy-back price would be based on the operator's wholesale, depreciated cost.

"Their version of portability is kind of silly," Joseph says. "They say that if you purchase a box you can negotiate with your provider (on a buy-back price). Anyone who's negotiated their cable bill with their MSO is looking forward to that."

Operators also would provision and support the boxes, with service theft blocked by proofs of purchase and other means. Manufacturers could create extended warranties and retailers could generate their own extended maintenance programs.

The letter also addressed security concerns related to point of deployment modules (POD), which separate conditional access for authorization for premium networks and other cable services, essentially adding portability to the box. It also tied the effort into CableLabs' OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP), a middleware specification for digital cable set-tops.

Petricone said the announcement "wholly contradicts the good faith efforts we've made with the cable industry to create open specifications for set-top boxes."

The problem with considering the initiative as a good start is that "it gives (the cable industry) an opportunity to entrench themselves in the marketplace and establish a market position," Joseph says.

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