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News summary for 11/30/07

Fri, 11/30/2007 - 8:38am
CED staff

Comcast fires back on FCC’s sub caps
By Brian Santo

After FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was embarrassed by his well-publicized failure to gain greater regulatory control over the cable industry, he had to do something to reassert his authority, and there’s rarely much risk in attacking a corporate giant. So Martin is putting his energy into establishing a subscriber cap for Comcast Corp. 

When faced with a weakened opponent, the only thing to do is take the offensive, and yesterday Comcast went on the attack.

Comcast EVP David L. Cohen published a statement that said there is no justification for capping Comcast at a 30 percent market share. Cohen made the point that Verizon and AT&T have grown to enormous size without any objection from the FCC.

“It is unthinkable,” Cohen wrote, “that the government would constrain the ability of cable companies like Comcast to compete with these colossal companies that have virtually unlimited financial resources. In fact, AT&T alone has a market capitalization of $231 billion - larger than the entire cable industry combined."

Comcast needs to attract more than three million additional subscribers to near a 30 percent market share. Like many other MSOs, however, Comcast is actually losing basic cable subscribers. That would seem to make Martin’s proposed subscriber cap completely moot, but a cap would constrain Comcast should it want to grow by acquiring another pay-TV provider.

Zander out, Brown in as Moto CEO
By Brian Santo

Bowing to investor pressure, Motorola has installed Greg Brown as CEO, effective Jan. 1, succeeding Edward Zander, who will remain at the company as chairman of the board of directors until the annual meeting of stockholders in May 2008.

Zander held the reins of Motorola for just less than three years. During that time, he presided over a Motorola resurgence that was fueled largely by the great success of the Razr cell phone, introduced two years ago.

Motorola has long been a key supplier to the cable TV industry, but during Zander’s tenure, Motorola also bought a large handful of companies that together make Motorola an even more integral part of the communications system supply chain.

But the big money for Motorola was coming from cell phones, and Motorola didn’t follow up on the Razr’s success, which inflamed dissident investor Carl Icahn, who has been agitating for Zander’s removal for months.

Brown was Zander’s heir apparent. Since March, he had served as Motorola’s president and COO, and he was also elected to the company’s board. Prior to becoming president and COO, Brown headed four different businesses at Motorola, led the $3.9 billion acquisition of Symbol Technologies and was involved in sharpening Motorola’s focus on enterprise products.

Patent office sides with TiVo in dustup with EchoStar
By Mike Robuck

TiVo is claiming victory in the latest round of its battle with EchoStar Communications after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) sided with the DVR pioneer.

EchoStar sued TiVo in 2004 and requested that the patent office re-examine the patent TiVo holds on “time warp” technology, which allows DVR users to pause live TV. The function also allows viewers to watch one program while recording another.

"We are extremely pleased that the PTO has now found all claims of the Time Warp Patent to be valid after conducting a reexamination of the patent requested by EchoStar,” TiVo said in yesterday’s statement. “This decision by the PTO is final and not appealable by EchoStar. Today's decision by the PTO brings us another step closer to ending EchoStar's continued infringement, and we are hopeful that the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will uphold the district court judgment of patent infringement and reinstate the injunction."

EchoStar said in a statement that the patent office’s decision was disappointing but that it doesn’t affect the company’s pending appeal before a federal court in regards to the TiVo lawsuit.

Last year, a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction against EchoStar supplying its Dish Network customers with DVRs, while also ordering EchoStar to pay TiVo $89.6 million in damages, which led to EchoStar’s current appeal. 

EchoStar claims its DVR technology is not the same as TiVo’s. The ruling by the patent office on TiVo’s time warp technology does not have a direct bearing on EchoStar’s federal appeal.

Google to bid alone in FCC’s auction of 700 MHz band
By Traci Patterson

Google officially announced today that it will apply to participate in the FCC’s upcoming wireless spectrum auction in the 700 MHz band. The Web giant will file its formal application, without any partners, on Monday.

As part of the digital transition, the 700 MHz spectrum auction - which begins Jan. 24 - will free up spectrum airwaves for “more efficient wireless Internet service for consumers,” Google said.

"We believe it's important to put our money where our principles are," said Eric Schmidt, chairman and CEO of Google. "Consumers deserve more competition and innovation than they have in today's wireless world. No matter which bidder ultimately prevails, the real winners of this auction are American consumers who likely will see more choices than ever before in how they access the Internet."

Schmidt praised the leadership of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and his fellow commissioners for adopting the new rights for consumers earlier this year.
The Web giant is currently running a test version of an advanced wireless network at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. If Google wins the spectrum, the testing would give the company some operating experience to run a full-scale national mobile network, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month.

The bid could square Google off with the major wireless carriers, AT&T and Verizon, who need the spectrum to expand their broadband offerings and support advanced services such as mobile TV.

In July, Google said it intended to participate in the auction of spectrum in the 700 MHz band if the FCC adopted a framework requiring greater competition and consumer choice. Google urged the Commission to adopt four open platforms as part of the license conditions: open applications, devices, services and networks. The FCC has decided to support two of the open access principles: open applications and devices.

This month, Google - along with T-Mobile, HTC, Qualcomm, Motorola and other companies - announced the companies’ collaboration for the development of Android through the Open Handset Alliance. The alliance’s goal is to foster innovation on mobile devices and give consumers a better user experience through open standards.

The Android platform is a fully integrated mobile “software stack” that consists of an operating system, middleware, user-friendly interface and applications. The first Android cell phones are expected to be available in the second half of 2008.

Sprint turns down $5 billion investment offer
By Mike Robuck

Reuters is reporting that last week, Sprint Nextel spurned a $5 billion investment offer by Providence Equity Partners and South Korea’s SK Telecom.

Reuters said the offer was in the form of convertible-preferred stock securities that could be converted into equity for 20 percent more than Sprint’s current stock price. Tim Donahue, Sprint’s former chairman, was part of the investor group seeking to invest in Sprint, and The Wall Street Journal reported that the plan was to install Donahue as the new CEO if the offer was successful.

Earlier this month, Sprint suspended rolling out more of the Pivot wireless service that is part of the joint venture with ComcastCox CommunicationsTime Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

Cablevision cooks up more HD channels
By Mike Robuck

Cablevision said yesterday that it will be spicing up its HD lineup with the addition of Food Network HD and HGTV HD.

The new channels give Cablevision’s digital customers in its tri-state footprint a total of 44 high-definition programming choices.

"These are great marquee additions to an iO TV HD lineup that has already doubled over the last year," said John Trierweiler, Cablevision's SVP of product management. "We know our iO TV customers will enjoy the opportunity to experience these leading lifestyle networks with the superior picture and sound of high-definition."

Cablevision is competing against satellite and telco operators, but unlike its competitors, it does not charge more for HD-capable converter boxes or charge extra fees for HD programming.

Corning Cable Systems sells first ClearCurve product
By Traci Patterson

Corning Cable Systems, part of Corning Inc.’s telecom segment, has sold its first ClearCurve product offering to date - to Connexion Technologies.

Connexion, which is deploying fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks across the U.S., is using ClearCurve Rugged Drop Cable in its multiple dwelling unit (MDU) deployments.

The cable is 4.8 mm in diameter and is designed for applications where other physical cable protection, such as microduct, is neither available nor desired, the company said. The cable has a self-bend limiting feature that prevents the fiber from exceeding the 5 mm minimum bend radius, no matter how the cable is bent. It can therefore be handled in any way that copper communication cables are handled, such as pulling through wall studs and stapling to wood.

Apple prepping iPhone for 3G networks
By Brian Santo

Apple is preparing a version of the iPhone that works with 3G networks. It should be available sometime next year, according to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.

Stephenson was reported to have made the comments during his appearance at an event in Santa Clara, Calif.

AT&T has gotten a boost by offering the iPhone with its networks, but thus far the iPhone has only been able to provide access through AT&T’s Edge network, which provides slower data rates than AT&T’s 3G network.

The announcement answers one of the key criticisms of the iPhone - that it only works on slower networks. Apple was widely expected to make the iPhone compatible with 3G networks; the issue was when.

Broadband Briefs for 11/30/07

* NCTA, Cox assisting New Orleans with rebuilding effort
By Traci Patterson

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) will assist the New Orleans region in its long-term recovery from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina under the umbrella of the CableCares community service program, and with the assistance of the city of New Orleans, Cox New Orleans and local organizations helping in the rebuilding efforts.

Initiatives include rebuilding playgrounds and libraries, bringing schools back, the Sportsman Channel’s Hunt.Fish.Feed initiative, and having battle of the bands and bike tour fundraisers. The NCTA’s Cable Show ’08 will be held in New Orleans May 18-20. The Big Easy has hosted more NCTA conventions than any other city.

* DirecTV adds local HD programming in Texas, Michigan
By Traci Patterson

DirecTV is now offering local HD programming to customers in the Waco, Texas, and Flint, Mich., designated market areas. In Waco, KCEN/NBC and KWTX/CBS are now available in HD, and in Flint, WJRT/ABC, WSMH/FOX, WNEM/CBS and WEYI/NBC are now HD-ready. DirecTV’s rollout of local HD channels is part of the satellite operator’s plan to offer up to 100 national HD channels by year’s end.

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