FCC's 'AllVid' Gateway Would Require Six IP Video Streams

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The Federal Communications Commission is looking for feedback on its proposal to require U.S. cable, satellite and telco TV operators to supply all their customers an "AllVid" device or gateway -- capable of delivering as many as six different IP video streams to TVs, DVRs or other equipment in the home -- beginning no later than the end of 2012.

The commission issued the proposal Wednesday in a "notice of inquiry" seeking input. The FCC is hoping to "spur innovation, draw users to broadband, and change how people perceive and use broadband," by mandating a solution that would work across all multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs).

For now, the FCC is seeking comment on the AllVid concept and does not intend to impose rules immediately. However, the agency has suggested it would require all MVPDs to supply all subscribers with the AllVid solution no later than Dec. 31, 2012, and mandate the use of the interface with their operator-leased set-tops and DVRs as well.

The cable industry supports the "all-MVPD" solution, in large part because it would put satellite and telco competitors in the same regulatory boat.

"We applaud the Commission for adopting a Notice of Inquiry that will explore how best to achieve a competitive retail marketplace for devices that can access the video services of all multichannel providers," National Cable & Telecommunications Association president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow said. "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."

The FCC's current CableCard regime, by contrast, applies only to cable operators and Verizon's FiOS TV service, which uses a cable-based video delivery system. The commission said it anticipates that AllVid devices "could over time replace CableCard devices on retail shelves" and is seeking comment on whether the commission should consider eliminating the CableCard rules, and if so, the appropriate date for such a change.

In its notice of inquiry, the commission suggested two possible AllVid equipment configurations: a small "set-back" device, capable of communicating with one navigation device or TV set and providing at least two simultaneous video streams, to allow for picture-in-picture and to let subscribers watch one program while recording a program on another channel; and a whole-home gateway, capable of providing at least six simultaneous video streams within the home. 

The entire 28-page NOI is available here: http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-10-60A1.pdf.

The FCC further suggested IP and 100-Mbps Ethernet as the communications protocol and physical-layer interface, respectively, for AllVid. However, the commission also seeks comment "on any other physical connectors (for example, Multimedia over Coaxial Cable (‘MoCA')" that could serve as the link between AllVid adapters and retail navigation devices or whether the FCC would need to mandate a physical layer technology at all.

For encryption and authentication, the AllVid equipment could use Digital Transmission Licensing Administrator's Digital Transmission Copy Protection over IP specification (DTCP-IP). The FCC noted that the MPAA and CableLabs have both approved DTCP-IP.

Other functions AllVid may have to perform: a mechanism to communicate the directory of video content available; the ability to facilitate content ordering and billing; and the ability to pass through emergency alert system ("EAS") messages, closed-captioning data and parental-control parameters.

The FCC said the AllVid adapter may not have to transcode the content, as delivered by the MVPD. The commission is seeking input on whether it should specify video-encoding formats, and, if so, on which audio-visual codecs navigation devices should be required to handle.

In addition, the commission wondered whether navigation devices in the AllVid system should include over-the-air ATSC tuners. While FCC rules require unidirectional digital cable devices to include an ATSC tuner, the agency asked whether consumers would expect this equipment to receive over-the-air broadcast service as well as whether the commission has the authority to impose such a requirement.

The FCC also raised questions about the cost for an AllVid adapter and the costs associated with adding compatibility to a TV or third-party DVR.

"We seek data on consumer purchasing behavior regarding home-entertainment equipment," the commission asked in the NOI. "To what extent are consumers willing to pay for additional functionalities in the equipment they purchase? Would the AllVid concept change the economics of consumer preferences?"

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