AT&T U-verse TV Would Not Meet FCC's AllVid Gateway Requirement

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AT&T's U-verse TV service -- as it is currently implemented -- would not be able to meet the Federal Communications Commission's proposed requirements for an "AllVid" IP gateway that would let third-party consumer electronics access pay-TV services, according to a Multichannel News analysis.

The FCC on April 21 issued a "notice of inquiry" concerning a potential regulation that would require AT&T and other providers to supply every video subscriber with an IP home gateway capable of providing at least six simultaneous video streams in the home. The proposed regulation would go into effect no later than the end of 2012.

The AllVid gateway "would act as a whole-home gateway, capable of simultaneously communicating with multiple navigation devices within the home, and providing at least six simultaneous video streams within the home (which would allow picture-in-picture in three different rooms), possibly through a modular system that could accommodate more streams as necessary," the FCC said in the notice of inquiry.

However, AT&T's IPTV service is able to deliver a maximum of only four standard-definition (or a maximum of two or three HD streams) to each subscriber.

AT&T's U-verse fiber-to-the-node network architecture relies on DSL to deliver voice, video and data to the customer premises. The bandwidth limitations of DSL prevent the telco from delivering more than three concurrent HD video streams per household.

Asked to comment, AT&T argued that it is able to deliver four different live SD channels to four different rooms in a single subscriber home each with picture-in-picture, so it therefore delivers a total of eight different video streams. "We look forward to participating in the FCC's proceeding," the telco said.

The FCC's NOI, though, clearly indicates multichannel video programming distributors should be able to offer six independent video streams: "If a subscriber's home is equipped to handle six separate video streams and seven people in the home want to watch programming on seven different devices, which devices take precedence?" the commission asked in the document.

For now, the FCC is seeking comment on the AllVid concept and does not intend to impose rules immediately. The commission wants to "spur innovation, draw users to broadband, and change how people perceive and use broadband," by mandating a solution that would allow consumer electronics manufacturers to sell TVs, DVRs and other devices that work across all multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs).

AT&T is one the U.S.'s 10 biggest video distributors. In the first quarter of 2010, the telco added 231,000 U-verse TV subscribers to stand at about 2.3 million at the end of March.

The cable industry supports the "all-MVPD" solution, mainly because it would impose the same regulations on satellite and telco competitors. "We are very pleased that the Notice appears to be consistent with the series of consumer principles governing video devices which we have submitted to the Commission, especially in its recognition that the appropriate solution must involve all multichannel video providers," National Cable & Telecommunications Association president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow said in a statement.

The FCC's current CableCard regime applies only to cable operators and Verizon's FiOS TV service, which uses a cable-based video delivery system. The commission said AllVid devices "could over time replace CableCard devices on retail shelves" and is seeking comment on whether the CableCard rules should be eliminated.

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