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Arris-Motorola has more hurdles to straddle

By PETER WHITE

Published: 18 February, 2013

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Any area of business which has suffered with such a prolonged "lock in" of a single vendor as Motorola has had in the US cable set top market, cannot expect to change hands without some serious scrutiny. Ultimately the second request for information relating to the Arris purchase of Motorola Home from Google, is unlikely to prevent the deal from going ahead, but it does amount to a further concentration of power into a single corporation and it could require some remedies.

The US cable set top market has seen a dilution of control by Motorola Home over the past four or five years form the 50% market share it once had with Scientific Atlanta, now part of Cisco, holding a further 25%.

The detail was noted in a brief press release on the Arris site, saying simply that it and Google have received a request for additional information and documentary materials from the Department of Justice regarding the proposed acquisition, issued in conjunction with the DOJ's review of the transaction under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act . This is an amendment to earlier anti-trust laws in the US that prevents mergers if they are thought to adversely affect US commerce.

The effect of this Second Request extends the waiting period until 30 days after each company has complied with the request. It is often an arbitrary move to get the authorities more time, rather than a genuine extension of the investigation.

It is not obvious what the authorities might ask Arris to ensure prior to completion, perhaps a commitment to CableCard, or a further opening up of the CA function.

So far companies like UK set top maker Pace, have found ways around the CA lock-in and has supplied devices which work with the same conditional access system.

It is certainly an opportunity for the US lawmakers to further open the market for cable set tops, in a way that makes the market more competitive. But given that Motorola has lost market share over about 5 successive years, it is unlikely that the power remains in place, even after a merger with Arris, to go back to the bad old days.

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