Policy

To Cable Firms, AllVid Is Still All Wet

10/24/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — Multichannel-video distributors still
think the AllVid proposal is an innovation-killing and
unnecessary government-issued technology mandate,
they told the Federal Communications
Commission last week.

Media companies represented
at a Sept. 28 FCC workshop
discussing the agency’s All-
Vid idea got together to state
their opposition in no uncertain
terms. They also added
President Obama’s regulatory
reform agenda to their longstanding
arguments against
FCC mandates to standardize
a video interface.

The AllVid Tech Company
Alliance (including AllVid
backers Google, Sony, Best
Buy and TiVo) had characterized
the workshop as exhibiting
“little controversy” about
a Sept. 20 proposal for the
portable, interoperable set-top
interface to unite broadband
and multichannel video.

MANDATE OPPOSED

In a joint letter to the FCC,
Comcast, Time Warner Cable,
The Walt Disney Co., DirecTV Group, HBO, AT&T and
Verizon Communications — all of whom had representatives
at the workshop — said that they do not believe
the alliance’s proposal is “clearly feasible,” as the alliance
had argued, or that it could or should be the basis
of an FCC rulemaking.

They said their panelists
were “unequivocal”
in asserting that
marketplace was
already diverse and
that a governmentmandated
solution
would chill investment
and innovation.
They added that even
some of the alliance’s
representatives were,
at best, ambivalent in
their comments on
AllVid regulations and
indicated that “things
are moving in the right direction” already without
AllVid.

Comcast et. al. said there is no need for a “single guiding
regulatory prescription” and that the “heavy lifting”
on the issue of interoperability and home networking is
already underway behind the scenes, through negotiations,
app development and standards organizations,
driven by marketplace pressures for increasing diversity
and choice.

The cable argument gets some support in a new book,
Free Ride, by former Billboard executive editor Robert
Levine, according to an advance copy of the book. “It’s
hard to tell what action the FCC will take on AllVid, as
well as whether consumers will want it,” Levine wrote.
But he said it is ironic that the push by some for FCC action
comes as cable companies are loosening their hold
on content.

Levine said he also sees the value in cable operators
being able to hold onto their bundles of channels.
“The alternative is that video will get less and less expensive,
until companies can’t spend much money
producing it.”

He said that’s the business model that delivers hits
like “Charlie Bit My Finger,” viewed more than 11.6 million
times on YouTube.

Cable operators have argued that the regulatory initiative,
launched in a notice of inquiry in April 2010, is not
only unnecessary, but threatens its business model by
forced disaggregation of multichannel video services,
which they suggested is the consumer-electronics companies’
real motive.

BROADBAND AGENDA

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has touted the AllVid
initiative as a way to not only promote a retail market in settops
but to boost broadband deployment by making it easier
to access broadband through the TV set, given that 99% of
homes already have TV, while only 75% to 80% have a computer.

In the letter, the companies also argue that rather than add
new requirements to the FCC’s rules promoting the commercial
availability of navigation devices (cable set-tops), a
“strong case” could be made for allowing the rules to go away.

The letter noted the Obama Administration’s call for
regulatory reform based in costs and burdens on consumers
and business. By contrast, a notice of proposed rulemaking
on AllVid would “signal that yet another regulatory
‘solution’ may be imposed on what is the most competitive
device, programming, and services marketplace
this nation has ever enjoyed. … We respectfully request
that the commission allow such entrepreneurial activity
to continue without the specter that it will ultimately be
undermined by yet another ill-fated government-imposed
technology mandate.”

September