CableLabs Specifications Move From De Facto to De Jure

Curtis Knittle
Vice President, Wired Technologies Research and Development

Oct 6, 2020

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines de facto and de jure as follows:

de facto | di-ˈfak-(ˌ)tō – actual, exercising power as if legally constituted

de jure | (ˌ)dē-ˈju̇r-ē – by right, based on laws or actions of the state

In law and government, de facto describes practices that exist in reality, even though they are not officially recognized by laws, whereas de jure describes practices that are legally recognized, regardless of whether the practice exists in reality.

De facto is commonly used to refer to what happens in practice, in contrast with de jure, which refers to things that happen according to law.

The CableLabs® DOCSIS® series of specifications have been de facto standards for the cable industry for over 20 years. In parallel, CableLabs has contributed its specifications to de jure telecommunications industry standards bodies, specifically the International Telecommunications Union (ITU-T), the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), and the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers/International Society Broadband Experts (SCTE/ISBE).

In the past, creating a de jure standard was a lengthy process involving the reformatting of the specifications into the standards body’s document template, proofreading the reformatting for any errors, submitting the reformatted content as a contribution, and taking it through the standards body’s standardization process. These steps could take many months or even years. Because CableLabs’ specifications are living documents under strict document control (and may have a certification program linked to revisions under this document control), the official de jure standards body’s copy can quickly become out of date. To keep the copy up to date, the process of reformatting, proofreading, submitting, and going through the standards process, has to be repeated with every revision. This reality has led to the unfortunate result that the official de jure standards have been consistently out-of-date.

However, with the SCTE/ISBE publication of the DOCSIS 4.0 standard, now all three of the relevant de jure telecommunications industry standards bodies simply normatively reference the CableLabs specifications, either directly as is the case with SCTE/ISBE and ITU-T, or indirectly as is the case with ETSI. This simplifies the revision process to one of updating a few normative references and approving them. The process of updating these de jure standards has therefore become a much more streamlined activity and the official de jure standards can remain in sync with the CableLabs specifications.

One might ask, “Why does this matter?” Quite simply, it is a matter of law versus fact, as the definitions of de facto and de jure make clear. Regional governments (“the law”) globally prefer to recognize standards that result from the due process of a de jure standards body rather than a potentially proprietary solution coming from a single manufacturer or industry consortia. The standards process will vet these solutions and typically come with an Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) policy by which all participants must abide. Now that all of the relevant de jure standards bodies have adopted this practice cable operators around the world can confidently purchase products compliant with the CableLabs specifications, knowing that they are also fully compliant with any of the official standards from the aforementioned standards bodies.

In effect, ITU-T, ETSI, and SCTE/ISBE have all recognized that the CableLabs DOCSIS specifications are not only the de facto global standard, but also the de jure global standard. There is no longer is any gap between the facts and the law.