Cable Gunning for OCAP Ruling

For more than a decade, federal policy has called for a competitive retail marketplace for cable-ready two-way plug-and-play devices that consumers could use with any cable system.

The cable industry wants a “voluntary marketplace solution” to reach that goal. But if the FCC does impose a plan, the industry wants “limited” FCC rules that would ensure cable operator support nationwide for the Open Cable Applications Platform (OCAP). Cablers say the Java-based middleware would enable “write once, run anywhere” software and stimulate innovative new features by third-party developers.

The FCC may be nearing a ruling on the matter: Comment and reply periods have ended, and National Telecommunications and Cable Association President Kyle McSlarrow was at the commission Oct. 1 talking up OCAP, according to a filing by the NCTA.

Sept. 27, Panasonic demonstrated three OCAP-compliant devices at the FCC. The company showed a 42-inch plasma HDTV, an HD set-top box with DVR (designed for cable operators to lease to viewers) and an OCAP “reference platform” to help cable operators test and implement OCAP.

Panasonic is ready to bring the devices to market by the 2008 holiday season, the company told the FCC.

“OCAP is ready for use in consumer electronics products today,” Panasonic wrote, urging quick FCC action to establish an OCAP-reliant regulatory framework.

While some major consumer electronics providers have supported the OCAP regime, others, such as Sony, and the Consumer Electronics Association itself, are pushing for rules that would allow consumers a choice of OCAP and DCR+ (digital cable-ready plus), a platform enabling only basic two-way functions such as video-on-demand, pay-per-view, and an interactive program guide.

Sony and others have argued that the OCAP plan gives too much power to cable industry consortium CableLabs, which would license OCAP to device makers.

Cable officials told reporters this week that a rule allowing DCR+ would be “a sharp left turn” for the commission and be problematic across industries, forcing cable operators into extensive reworkings of their plants—all when some providers have already implemented OCAP on their systems.