FCC Opens Gateway Proceeding

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The FCC has launched an inquiry into a smart video device platform it says will help spur broadband adoption and promote the investment and competition that are something of a Hippocratic oath for broadband.

At the same time, the agency issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on a number of changes to  the CableCARD regime that separates channel-surfing and security functions in cable set-tops.

The moves came at the FCC's April public meeting Wednesday April 21, when the agency officially launched implementation of the national broadband plan. Both votes were unanimous.

The FCC's ultimate goal is to come up with a "gateway" platform that works with all multichannel video providers and that will "spur innovation, draw users to broadband, and change how people perceive and use broadband."

That inquiry is the first step toward implementing the FCC national broadband plan of opening up the market for access to MVPD service and uniting access to broadband and traditional video delivery since 99% of homes have TV's, while more like 75%-80% have computers.

The inquiry asks for comment on developing an interface device in the home for "all consumer devices," which the FCC says will achieve four key goals:
1) Spur investment and innovation in the market for retail devices that work with any pay TV service;
2) Allow providers to innovate and compete in offering services without requiring consumers to switch devices;

3) Generate more competition and consumer choice; and
4) Encourage wider broadband use and adoption.

"Just as a shopping mall presents customers with numerous retail outlets, smart video devices would offer viewers a single window into pay TV content and Internet content," said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.

He said he recognized that the proposal was only one approach and that the inquiry will give others the chance to propose other ways to achieve those goals. Genachowski said that whatever they did, prompt action was needed.

The CableCARD proposals, he said, are intended, in the interim, to improve the transparency of CableCARD changes, streamline installation and increase the functionality of the retail devices.

"These simple changes should have a direct and immediate impact on the effect of the CableCARD regime while we work on a more innovation-enabling successor," he said.

The goal, per a congressional mandate, was to spur a retail market in the boxes, which was the FCC's intention in mandating the separation of surfing and security. "That approach, as is very widely recognized, has not achieved its objective," Genachowski said Wednesday. He pointed out that only a "tiny fraction" of all set-tops include CableCARDS, and said only two companies sell devices at retail that integrate pay TV and Internet content.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has expressed concerns about a one-size-fits-all standard gateway device, but the cable group's president Kyle McSlarrow said Wednesday the group welcomed both the notice of inquiry and what it called the "targeted" examination of the CableCARD regime, which both FCC and industry agree has not worked.

He was particularly pleased with the CableCARD proposal to allow the industry to deploy HD Digital Terminal Adapters. "Low cost digital adapters are a vital tool for all cable systems to recapture bandwidth that can be used to provide consumers with faster broadband speeds, more HD channels, and other interactive services," he said in a statement.

McSlarrow also was pleased by the notice of inquiry that seemed to square with consumer principles on video devices that NCTA proposed to the comission, "especially in its recognition that the appropriate solution must involve all multichannel video providers".

Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker was not present to vote on the host of items due to the death of her mother earlier this week. Her vote was still being recorded electronically and reflected in the record.

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