FCC Requests Information On How Set-Top Boxes Can Spur Internet Viewing

The Federal Communications Commission is getting serious about using television to drive broadband adoption.

Thursday it released yet another request for information for its national broadband plan, this one focused on how set-top boxes could help spur the viewing of video over the Internet.

The agency pointed out that while only 76% of households have personal computers, 99% have TV sets. "The convergence of the television and content delivered by IP makes this a critical time to promote innovation in set-top devices that could support the Commission's effort to drive broadband adoption and utilization."

The FCC says it's time for a set-top that works across all delivery platforms, able to deliver content from both MVPDs and the Internet to those TV sets.

The FCC wants to know, specifically, what technological limits there are on boxes that access video content in all forms, or what it calls a "true plug-and-play" device that is "network agnostic." It also wants to know whether a retail market for such devices might achieve a competitive market in navigation devices. It cites what it calls the "limited success" of developing that market via its mandate of separating the channel-surfing and security functions of the boxes.

The commission also is pondering a networking standard for combining home broadband and home video networked devices.

"Given the flood of video content that is now available from a multitude of sources," says the commission, "what obstacles stand in the way of allowing consumers to navigate those sources? What can the Commission do to eliminate those obstacles?"

Comments are due Dec. 21. The FCC's public notice on "video device innovation" is available here.

National Cable & Telecommunications Association vice president of communications Brian Dietz said in a statement, "We have long been supportive of a robust retail marketplace for video devices and support the FCC's Public Notice to explore how it can encourage further innovation in this area. We especially applaud the Commission's intent to develop a solution that will spur the development of a retail market for nationally portable devices that will work across all video providers, a concept we have long championed. We encourage the full Commission to issue a broader Notice of Inquiry that will address these and other Section 629 issues."

FCC Media Bureau chief Bill Lake telegraphed the FCC's interest in the issue at the last public FCC meeting. In his part of what have become regular broadband plan updates, he said the days of separate TV and Internet were numbered and touted that convergence as a way to close the broadband adoption gap.

"We are pleased that the Commission is taking a look at the importance of video set-top boxes under the National Broadband plan," said Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn. "This is an issue that I raised in September at a Commission workshop on the importance of Internet video."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.