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McSlarrow Among Witnesses at Set-Top Boxes Hearing

While the House Communications Subcommittee hearing on
set-top boxes has been postponed from Apr. 15 due to a conflict with a
full-committee markup, National Cable & Telecommunications Association
President Kyle McSlarrow will head the list of witnesses, according to a
memorandum to Democratic staff circulated Tuesday (Apr. 13).

Also slated to testify at the hearing, which has not yet
been rescheduled, are Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn, Michael Williams of
Sony Electronics, David Young of Verizon and Matthew Zinn from TiVo.

The hearing was called to vet the FCC's national broadband
plan proposal to create a robust retail market in set-tops and mandate a
navigation device that would become the "standard interface" for both
broadband and traditional multichannel video delivery.

The FCC argues that such a gateway device would help spur
broadband adoption since 99% of households have a TV and only 75% of households
have a computer.

The FCC has slated a notice of inquiry on the gateway
devices as one of the first broadband plan implementation actions teed up for
its Apr. 21 FCC meeting. A notice of proposed rulemaking is planned by the end
of the year, and the commission anticipates the industry replacing its current
set-tops with the new device starting by the end of 2012.

The FCC says consumer electronics companies should be able
to sell inexpensive, network-neutral devices that can access content
independent of any particular MVPD or third party, allowing those consumer
electronics companies to design to a common interface and to open standards.
The device will also need to pass through content protection flags from cable

The FCC wants to both create a broadband-boosting gateway
and spur a retail market in set-tops, a market that both the FCC and the cable
industry acknowledge was not created by the FCC's mandate that the industry
separate the channel-surfing and security functions of set-tops.

That created the CableCARD regime, a hardware fix that the
industry has always argued was a forced non-solution to an issue it was more
efficiently addressing via work on a software fix.

National Cable & Telecommunications Association
President Kyle McSlarrow has suggested  that the national broadband plan's
focus on a "gateway" set-top device is worth studying, but not
mandating, or at least only mandating as a last resort. And he suggested the
plan's CableCARD recommendations were misplaced.

In the wake of the initial announcement of the gateway
proposal as part of the broadband plan, McSlarrow reiterated the association's
position--which has been registered in comments at the FCC--that multichannel
video providers need the freedom to innovate to meet different consumer demands
and needs. He said proposals to "disaggregate" a service purchased by
a customer "would undercut the very premise of innovation we should want,
and are likely to fail."