Verizon To FCC: Abolish Set-Top Rules

Telco Makes Pitch In Response To TiVo Petition
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Verizon Communications is taking advantage of a petition by TiVo to urge the Federal Communications Commission to “seize this opportunity” to waive all technology mandates tied to set-tops and other navigation devices that are distributed by multichannel programming distributors (MVPDs).

Verizon’s comments are in response to TiVo’s request for a waiver or a clarification on rules that it use a standardized home networking interface on products supplied wholesale to pay-TV providers.

Verizon, in comments filed October 6, argued that TiVo’s petition shows that not even companies that were supposed to benefit from the FCC’s mandates “want to abide by all of them,” and offers further proof that CE technology “is fast outpacing the Commission’s regulations.”

“Given these marketplace developments since this rule was adopted, the Commission should seize this opportunity to waive all technology mandates related to navigation devices distributed by MVPDs, and let consumers enjoy the multiple and diverse market-based solutions that are rapidly being developed and implemented by MVPDs and the consumer electronics industry,” Verizon argued.

Verizon said it is taking no position on whether TiVo’s solution complies with the home networking interface rule, and does  not oppose TiVo’s request, but it did urge the FCC to “recognize the futility of further attempts to dictate standards in the innovative and rapidly changing market for devices and software applications that consumers can use to access video programming from their MVPDs.”

At a minimum, should the FCC grant TiVo its proposed waiver, it should similarly grant a waiver of the IP-networking requirement for all providers, Verizon said.

Verizon’s position to phase out the current separable set-top security rules is one that is shared by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which has repeatedly called on the FCC to phase out a mandate that took effect in July 2007.

Last fall, Reps. Robert Latta (R-Ohio) and Gene Green (D-TX) introduced  legislation  that aims to “remove the unnecessary and costly” set-top security integration ban, and follows a court decision in which EchoStar won its challenge to FCC rules on the ability to record TV programming. Additionally, a provision in the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) seeks to eliminate the FCC’s integration ban, though it would aim to retain the FCC’s power to reinstate the ban on any successor to the CableCARD regime.

TiVo, which is working on a non-CableCARD approach with Comcast, wants the current CableCARD rules to stay in place until a next-gen solution is developed. The cable industry has argued that the FCC should refrain from creating any new set-top rules and to instead let market forces decide the path forward.

TiVo’s Petition

TiVo filed its petition on August 29, requesting further waiver or clarification with respect to the requirement that TiVo products supplied wholesale to cable operators much include an industry-standard, interactive, and recordable home networking interface.

TiVo acknowledged in the petition that TiVo products leased by MSOs don’t support “all elements of an open industry standard as that term has been defined by the Commission, and thus does not meet the letter of the rule.” TiVo argued in part that strict compliance of the rule would harm smaller cable operators that use TiVo products, that it would serve no public interests, and would be “extremely expensive” for TiVo given its historic investments.

TiVo noted that it had to work ahead of the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), which  released the CVP-2 guidelines in March, and followed in September with the debut of the “VidiPath” brand and a certification  program -- initiatives that will provide a secure, in-home IP networking path that will allow MVPDs to deliver subscription TV content (and bridge their user interfaces and navigation systems) to VidiPath-certified retail CE products such as set-tops, gaming consoles and streaming devices.

TiVo said it’s “generally supportive” of the DLNA initiative, but said it couldn’t anticipate the outcomes of the organization’s process and the timing and content of published specs, so therefore had to develop its own solution, which it claims to provide more features and functionality than the DLNA’s baseline specs.

“Even after the release of the DLNA CVP-2 specification, it is too soon for TiVo to anticipate precisely how these specifications will be implemented by major cable operators,” TiVo said.