The Set-Top Files (Part I)
Consumer electronics giants, cable MSOs, and industry pressure groups alike are filling up the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) docket with comments in response to the Commission's call for how it can spur innovation in the video device market. (See Whither the CableCARD?)
After a relatively quiet period, filing activity heated up big time Tuesday as documents began to go public a day after the FCC's December 21 deadline on the proceeding, which is getting underway as the Commission prepares a National Broadband Plan it intends to present to Congress on Feb. 17, 2010. (See FCC Explains Its Broadband Plan and FCC Boots Up National Broadband Plan .)
We'll have much more later (stuff's still pouring in), but here's a summary of who's said what so far:
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) has already acknowledged that CableCARD rules have yet to produce a vibrant retail set-top market but suggested that the Commission, should it conclude that Internet capabilities need to be forced into a "ubiquitous device, it would do better to choose the television itself for its mandate rather than the set-top box."
At the same time, the NCTA reiterated a stance that a retail market for set-tops will have trouble getting off the ground unless separable security rules are also required of the nation's satellite and telco TV providers, and not just cable.
On that front, the NCTA is asking the FCC to open up a separate Notice of Inquiry on the so-called "All-MVPD" (multichannel video programming distributor) device, which, in the Association's estimation, could be handled by a "set-back" box that communicates with TVs through the HDMI-CEC (High-Definition Multimedia Interface - Consumer Electronics Control) interface. (See Cable's Got Ideas for a Universal Retail Box .)
At the same time, NCTA holds that a "mandate to add Internet and browsing capability to every MVPD set-top box would be extraordinarily expensive for consumers," but suggests that tru2way could still play a role in the delivery of video and other content sourced from the Internet.
Although tru2way defines a technical baseline for the delivery of interactive cable apps like video-on-demand, its presence "does not restrict manufacturers from combining video sources or adding full-fledged Internet access to their 'digital cable ready' DTVs (digital televisions)," the NCTA said, noting that MSOs have already deployed north of 2.5 million tru2way-based boxes (for leased, not retail, distribution).
Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX) chimed in that "new regulatory mandates are not necessary or appropriate at this time," noting that, oh, by the way, it's got its own TV Everywhere initiatives well underway.
But if the FCC insists on intervening, the MSO said it's most in favor of an HDMI-connected, small set-back device along the lines of the NCTA proposal.
The MSO says it's "eager" to deliver Internet content to set-tops but adds that Internet-connected set-tops aren't necessarily a viable strategy for "bridging the digital divide" and encouraging broadband adoption.
"In TWC's experience, most households lacking Internet access report reasons unrelated to PC ownership, including lack of interest or cost. Moreover, a disproportionate share of households with TVs but no Internet service have no set-top boxes at all and thus may be unwilling to attach a new device in order to obtain broadband access."
The ACA, echoing a claim made by Ohio's Massillon Cable TV Inc. earlier this year, said Moto and Cisco don't support SimulCrypt in North America (where they are incumbents), but do so in international markets where they are trying to break in. (See Cisco, Moto Called Out by Ohio MSO.)
Irdeto Access B.V. also chipped in its support for SimulCrypt.
Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) supports a "network gateway model" because it would offer a standard interface to a variety of MVPD networks and permit connections to Web-sourced video content.
Not surprisingly, Sony, which is trying to make some hay off movie downloads via the Playstation3, is not in favor of "artificial limits on Internet use, such as monthly 'usage caps.' "
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) also offered support for the gateway approach.
Dish Network Corp. (Nasdaq: DISH), like DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) before it, is resistant to any new rules that would also ban the satellite TV giant from using set-tops with imbedded security. (See DirecTV Disses Cable's 'All-MVPD' Plans.)
"Mandating the development of a nationally portable video device that works across all delivery platforms does not serve the public interest," Dish said, in a joint filing with tech spinoff and set-top maker EchoStar Technologies LLC.
As for its reasons, Dish says satellite TV is a different animal and subject to "the physical constraints of one-way spectrum." Moreover, combining cable, telco, and IPTV requirements into a single box "would be to make it overly complex and prohibitively expensive for consumers."
Instead, it's pitching an alternative system that uses the SD/MicroSD or USB form-factor. Beyond Broadband Technology LLC (BBT) is also pursuing a separable security platform that leverages USB. (See FCC: Retail Set-Top Is Possible, at Least.)
"Making CableCARDs routine will build sufficient consumer confidence that retailers can with confidence market MVPD access as a feature rather than be concerned that consumers will view it as a deadweight expense," CERC said.
But the organization's also open to the gateway idea, thinking such a device could be made to operate on multiple types of MVPD networks, as Internet modems and routers are today.
Its argument: Firewire's on the verge of obsolescence and not widely adopted or supported. "Even [IEEE-1394] cables can be difficult to find in electronics stores," DLNA claims, noting that more than 6,000 DLNA-capable devices are already certified.
Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), meanwhile, replayed its call for the FCC to waive a rule that requires HD cable boxes to house the Firewire interface, claiming that DLNA is a better option . (See Intel Wants In on Set-Top Waiver Action .)
So, in TI's view, 1394 and HANA are ideal for multimedia home networking. "If this Commission were to adopt another network interface standard (or adopt a home networking standard using a different network interface), it would not solve the problem that has slowed the growth of IEEE-1394," TI said.
The 1394 Trade Association essentially echoed that view in its own filing.
Baja Broadband Operating Company LLC used this as an opportunity to urge the FCC to grant the operator a waiver for refurbished set-tops with integrated security, claiming that it can't afford boxes with CableCARDs.
Baja, a rural operator with 67,000 subs on 12 systems in rural parts of New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and Texas, said the costs of supporting the separable security rule is "among the major reasons" why the company still can't provide high-speed broadband services.
But it also believes it's "profoundly unfair and unsound" for the FCC not to impose similar rules on DirecTV and Dish, claiming they've been given a "free ride" so far.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News