NCTA Counters Verizon's Tru2way Claims

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow fired off a letter today to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) challenging Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ)'s argument that the interactive tru2way platform is "incompatible" with the telco's FiOS TV platform.

Although the NCTA agreed with many of the items spelled out in a recent Verizon filing on the matter of cross-industry interoperability, it bristled at the telco's suggestion that digital televisions (DTVs) outfitted with tru2way middleware hinder innovation and, likewise, won't work on cable-alternative networks, including those that rely on IP technology to deliver video services.

Verizon had argued otherwise, holding that tru2way assumes the existence of the RF return path, which "does not exist on fiber networks or on services provided by satellite operators or IPTV providers." (See Verizon: No Way on tru2way .)

McSlarrow countered that digital TVs with tru2way baked in still allow competing MVPDs (multi-channel video programming distributors) to pick and choose whatever technology they want to handle video services.

"Just as DTVs do today, tru2way DTVs will work with a competing provider's service if the DTV is connected to a provider's set-top box -- that is, a DirecTV set-top for DirecTV service, a Verizon set-top with Verizon service, or an AT&T set-top for AT&T service," McSlarrow wrote. "Consumer electronics manufacturers are also completely free to put connections on their tru2way DTVs and set-top boxes so those devices can access Internet video, and no cable license stands in the way."

Although Verizon and the cable industry aren't exactly seeing eye-to-eye on tru2way -- despite a recent claim from CableLabs president and CEO Richard Green at the 2008 NXTComm conference that the platform is indeed open and can work on telco video networks -- they appear to be in agreement that a "voluntary 'all-provider' plug-and-play solution" should be developed.

Although the NCTA is "pleased" that Verizon now wants to work toward this goal, McSlarrow noted that the cable pressure group called on the FCC to encourage an all-provider solution in the summer of 2007, but AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Verizon, and satellite video service providers "all declined cable's invitation." He said this apparent lack of cross-industry support caused cable to proceed with its own two-way negotiations, which led to the tru2way "memorandum of understanding" (MOU) that today counts support from six major U.S. cable operators and a raft of consumer electronics companies. (See Revealed: The Tru2way MOU, Sony Supports tru2way, More Firms Go the Way of Tru2way, and tru2Way Tallies Two More.)

Ethernet in favor. 1394? Not so much
That quibble aside, NCTA does agree with Verizon that Ethernet appears to be the most attractive interface to make an all-provider solution possible.

"Verizon's suggestion that all DTVs include an RJ45 Ethernet input port is worth exploring with CE manufacturers," McSlarrow said. Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), in a filing of its own last month, called on the FCC to amend the rules so IP becomes a mandatory interface.

Under today's rules, any cable operator-supplied high-definition set-top is required to have a functioning IEEE 1394 interface, but cable's primary lobbying group is urging the FCC to consider replacing that technical obligation with one that instead requires an RJ45 Ethernet output.

"Although the rule seemed to make some sense when it was adopted five years ago, the 1394 output is largely unused today and imposes substantial costs that are borne by cable operators," McSlarrow wrote.

Predictably, this threat has grabbed the attention of 1394 advocates. On Aug. 11, the 1394 Trade Association countered that the IP-based networking interface suggested by Intel "is already available" under IEEE 1394.

"As a result, there is no need to modify the Commission's rules. The cable industry has widely deployed set-top boxes with 1394 to consumers, who will gain nothing from 'starting over' with a different interconnect, such as Ethernet, that offers no fundamental technical advantages over 1394," the group argued.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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