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Gateway to Heaven or Hell?

5:10 PM -- The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) was quick to respond to the release of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) documents offering limited details about the National Broadband Plan it presented to Congress today and will reveal to the rest of the world tomorrow. (See FCC Seeks 1-Gig Speeds at 'Anchor Institutions' and FCC Sends Broadband Plan to Congress.)

NCTA president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow generally commended the FCC's "blueprint" but offered this caveat: "As with any report of this size, variety and complexity, we expect that we will have points of agreement and disagreement on specific issues."

Expect one major rub to be about the FCC's stance on the set-top issue.

The scuttlebutt leading up to today has held that the FCC's been in favor of recommending the development of a one-size-fits-all, network-neutral "gateway" device that's capable of obtaining video services from cable, telcos, and satellite TV operators.

According to Multichannel News, the FCC definitely wants to go in that direction, with the plan calling on cable MSOs (and other multichannel TV service operators, we're guessing) to migrate to an "open-standard" gateway device that would replace legacy set-top architectures by the end of 2012.

That, in turn, could start a new countdown akin to the ban on integrated security set-tops that went into effect in July 2007… but this one might end up being a whole lot messier.

Depending on how the FCC presents this idea, the NCTA might jump all over it tomorrow, since it's already called the gateway something that's full of "flaws and inadequacies" and an approach that would "entail crippling delays." But they also won't be alone. DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) and Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) are among those that have already opposed the general notion of cross-industry gateways. (See The Set-Top Mess , The Set-Top Files (Part I) , and The Set-Top Files (Part II) .)

But the idea should please groups such as Public Knowledge and Free Press , which have been pushing for a standards-based gateway. (See Consumer Groups to FCC: Redo the Set-Top Rules .)

MCN also notes that the FCC's plan will be looking to create new CableCARD rules that, among other things, will aim to accelerate the certification process for set-tops, TVs, and other devices that use the removable security module, which so far, have not spawned much of a retail market. (See Whither the CableCARD?, CableLabs Specs Tru2way Set-Back Box, and Cable's Seven-Fold Path.)

If that's the case, the CableCARD should live on for now, but under some new guidelines that might placate TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) and others that claim the cable industry discriminates against third-party set-top makers. (See TiVo Gives Cable Both Barrels .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

Cooper10 12/5/2012 | 4:41:16 PM
re: Gateway to Heaven or Hell?

Obama has said that jobs are his number one priority, and the FCC clearly is listening.  This network gateway proposals represent a full employment act for lawyers and engineers for years to come.  Their vision may result in innovation for CPE - but will stifle incentive to invest in the delivery network, as resulting benefits will then accrue to 3rd parties who simply need a broadband pipe (at no cost to them or consumers) to fulfill their product vision.


Also interesting that the FCC states that a 95% market share for the two incumbent STB providers represents a failure in the competitive marketplace.  What is Google's market share in search?

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:41:16 PM
re: Gateway to Heaven or Hell? You forgot to mention that it will give me something to write about for years to come, too. ;)


I'll be interesting to learn more about this today, but FCC mandated CableCARD and that did not create a vibrant retail set-top environment, so not sure if this will either... but requiring participation from all MVPDs (cable, telco, satellite) might help, even though they appear to be generally resistant to a gov't-mandated gateway approach from the start. JB
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