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Weighing the FCC's Gateway

12:15 PM -- Some of the initial reactions to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposal that calls for the creation of a cross-industry, network-agnostic "gateway" are decidedly mixed, the day after the Commission released the fine points of the National Broadband Plan. (See FCC Floats 'Simple' Gateway, CableCARD Rules .)

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) was highly critical of the idea earlier on, suggesting that such a requirement would "entail crippling delays." (See The Set-Top Mess .)

But after seeing the proposal, the NCTA has softened its stance a bit, partly because the FCC's suggested rules would ensure that cable isn't singled out in the way it was when the original integrated set-top security ban took effect in July 2007.

In a blog posted yesterday afternoon, NCTA president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow said he was pleased that the FCC had evidently come to the conclusion that the best way the "retail video device marketplace can fully work for consumers is if all MVPDs [multichannel video programming distributors] participate...

"As we’ve pointed out before, a gateway approach is certainly one of several approaches that should be thought through, and we are pleased that the Broadband Plan acknowledges that 'functional equivalents,' should also be reviewed."

The NCTA has been pushing for an "all-MVPD" approach since 2007, and the FCC's dumbed-down gateway idea, which aims to separate out proprietary or unique functions such as conditional access, tuning, and reception, might set cable, telco, and satellite TV operators down that path. (See Brenner Defends OpenCable .)

However, it's almost laughable to believe that such a "simple" gateway would be ready for deployment by the start of 2013, despite the FCC's claim that it would involve "relatively simple architectures." The FCC could call for a rule requiring that all set-tops be red, and it would probably take years for everyone to agree to a particular shade and then get that rule implemented.

But the NCTA appears to be game, albeit with a caveat. It's "committed to working constructively with the FCC," McSlarrow noted, but it views technology mandates as a "last resort."

DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV), which has been exempted from separable set-top security rules so far, was less enthused, noting that it's already developing home gateway products. "We believe the staff's set-top box recommendations (in the proposed Broadband Plan) would actually hinder innovation and raise costs for consumers, while doing very little to increase broadband adoption," the company said in a statement.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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