Policy

DirecTV: Leave Our Set-Top Out of It

12/20/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

DirecTV continues to argue that it should not be subjected to the same Federal Communications Commission regulations that require cable to let retail consumer electronics — like TiVo DVRs — access programming without a separate set-top box.

The satellite-TV giant reiterated in a filing with the FCC last week that it should not be required to open its set-top boxes to allow consumer-electronics manufacturers to sell devices at retail that would be able to access its satellite TV programming along with other sources of video.

In the Dec. 15 filing, DirecTV responded to the FCC's request for input on how Internet-delivered video and pay TV operators' services could be accessed through the same set-top box, and potentially further the national adoption of broadband. Specifically, the agency said it wanted to “spur the development of a retail market for nationally portable video devices that will work across all delivery platforms, including MVPD [multichannel video programming distribution] platforms and broadband-based video platforms.”

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has long advocated an “all-MVPD solution” that would work across cable, satellite and telco TV — an approach also favored by consumer-interest groups.

NCTA president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow, in a Dec. 4 letter to FCC Media Bureau chief Bill Lake, wrote that despite the fact that the government's mandate requiring pay TV providers to separate security functions in set-tops “applies to all multichannel video programming distributors ('MVPDs'), the burdens imposed by the FCC's rules implementing Section 629 [of the Communications Act] are currently not being imposed on DBS providers, AT&T, and other telco video providers.”

But DirecTV argued that moving to an “all-MVPD” solution would “impose unnecessary costs and would impede, rather than advance, technical innovation.”

“A rule requiring development of network-agnostic devices that will allow for both MVPD video and Internet access, regardless of the provider and technological platform for each service component, would be cost-prohibitive, time-consuming, and quickly surpassed by newer technology,” DirecTV said.

Under FCC rules, cable operators are required to let retail navigation devices access programming via CableCards, which handle encryption and authentication functions. Satellite TV and Internet-protocol TV operators have been exempt from this requirement.

DirecTV said it should continue to be exempt from the FCC's conditional-access compatibility provisions of the navigation device rules because it uses “multiple manufacturers to develop a number of set-top box models” and there is “competition in the market for DBS equipment”; because its boxes are nationally portable; and because it has an incentive to innovate “in order to pursue additional market share as it competes against providers that offer bundled, two-way services.”

Moreover, using an argument cable operators have used in the past, DirecTV said most customers find leasing to be a better alternative than buying the set-top equipment.

“The low, monthly lease charge avoids large, out-of-pocket expenses for a new DirecTV customer, which had proved to be an impediment to video competition,” the company said.

An all-MVPD solution would also put DirecTV at a disadvantage to cable, it claimed. “Requiring all navigation devices to allow for two-way service fundamentally disadvantages a consumer-friendly, standalone video service (DBS) that is inherently one-way,” DirecTV said.

Meanwhile, DirecTV said, “It is not clear that increasing access to Internet content through MVPDs' set-top boxes will spur broadband adoption.”

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