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MVPDs: AllVid Is Technological Mandate

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, in tandem with AT&T/DirecTV, which together represent cable, telco TV and satellite video providers, have told the FCC that adopting an AllVid proposal for video navigation, as Public Knowledge and others have pushed, would be a technological mandate that required new technology that would ultimately be paid for by customers.

Public Knowledge had argued that an MVPD could facilitate AllVid from the cloud, rather than have to supply a new box, which critics of AllVid, including the abovementioned providers, have pointed out means added expense for their customers.

As part of the STELAR satellite bill, the FCC was required to sunset its ban on integrated set tops and come up with a software alternative to the CableCARD hardware regime the separated the security and search functions of boxes.

Backers of AllVid want the FCC to wed access to traditional and online video, while MVPDs say the marketplace is already doing that through Apps and does not need a government-mandated disaggregation of content.

In a letter to the FCC responding to Public Knowledge's assertion that AllVid would not be a technical mandate, NCTA et al. said that relying on DOCSIS modem to access MVPD service on AllVid devices would require "massive" changes in MVPD architecture and that "MVPDs would have to create a second (rather than a “virtual”) headend to deliver AllVid-compatible video, and divert bandwidth to accommodate this duplicate video traffic."

As for their being no technology mandate in AllVid, they said: "Whether hardware or software, video technology mandates selected by political processes instead of by the marketplace have a terrible track record, and they persist for years (or decades) when Internet time calls for constant change."

"[B]ecause the AllVid proposal is not 'off the shelf,' "technology, it would require years of development work on new protocols, standards and devices that have not yet been invented or implemented. In the end, MVPD customers would be left

footing that bill, whether or not they want an AllVid device.

The FCC adopted the ban on integrated set-tops in the late 1990's to spur a marketplace in retail boxes, something the FCC has since conceded did not work as advertised.

MVPDs pushing against AllVid say that that the app approach to online content is best, and already working. They point out there are currently nine versions of Android in the marketplace. "With iOS and a variety of Smart TVs, streaming boxes, and a wide variety of other device operating systems, the diversity of applications platforms has supported an “apps-based” marketplace that has succeeded without uniformity far beyond the FCC’s CableCARD mandate and in fulfillment of Congress’s and the Commission’s navigation device goals," they said.

They also argue that Public Knowledge--a big fair use backer--takes too expansive a reading of copyright protection when it argues that AllVid devices would not break copyright laws.

The MVPDs say PK is not excluding "the copyright licenses under which content providers lawfully segment the market through distribution agreements. It does not consider itself a party to those licenses and contends that they contain “pretext” terms that limit consumers’ 'lawful rights.'" Those would include agreements on channel placement, advertising and only in-home use of some content.

"The whole purpose of AllVid is to dismantle that work and create an unlicensed derivative without regard to copyright or licensing," they told the commission.

The FCC's Downloadable Security Technology Advisory Committee (DSTAC), created by STELAR to come up with a successor CableCARD regime, produced recommendations in a report last August, but it offered up options, including AllVid, rather than a single recommendation. 

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.