AT&T: FCC Fighting Old Set-Top War

Exec calls proposal 'misguided quest'

A top AT&T exec says the FCC's set-top proposal is a foolish monstrosity, and that the current commission is like an old general fighting the last war, but with casualties to the business models of MVPDs today.

In comments on that proposal filed with the FCC, the company said the effort is an attempt to "engineer MVPD networks and video business models in a misguided quest to keep the world safe for set-top boxes," AT&T VP, federal regulatory, Hank Hultquist blogged of the company's filing.

He argued, as have other MVPDS, that consumers are hardly locked into set tops -- "unlock the box" is the FCC's catchy brand for the proposal. Hultquist wrote that the industry is rapidly moving to make content available on as many devices as possible, driven by the app explosion, and suggested the FCC is focuses on the handle of that "hockey stick" growth trend.

"Instead of jumping on the app bandwagon," he said, the FCC is artificially subdividing MVPD service, handing Google and Tivo keys to customer viewing data that MVPDs have to protect from disclosure, and to content they could rebrand and reconfigure and monetize at will.

He added that when MPVDs try to do away with the box, which the FCC said is too costly, that is not enough either because the apps are still proprietary, as are Netflix's and Amazon's apps and don't provide for "universal search."

"To try to fit its Rube Goldberg-esque proposal into the statutory framework, the FCC mangles the ordinary use of language," Hultquist wrote. "According to the commission, words like 'device,' 'equipment,' and 'converter box' actually mean 'software.' And companies like Samsung, Apple or Roku become an 'affiliate' of an MVPD simply by entering into a commercial relationship with them. This is patent nonsense."

The timeline for the FCC's proposal is two years, but Hultquist said he does not see the technical obstacles to the proposal being overcome in that time frame.