Powell Pushes Back On AllVid

National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell is advising the FCC not to mandate a one-size-fit all video navigation solution when there is a growing choice of devices to deliver programming to the home.

That came in a letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler on the heels of CES 2014 in Las Vegas last month and in the face of a full court press by the AllVid Tech Company Alliance to create the video equivalent of one ring to unite them all.

"Developments throughout 2013 and new technologies displayed at CES 2014 underscore that innovate offerings continue to emerge rapidly and in unexpected ways, without regulation or the need for technology mandates," Powell wrote.

Tech companies have long pushed for a common IP-based interface, buoyed by the National Broadband Plan proposal of "initiat[ing] a proceeding to ensure that all multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) install a gateway device or equivalent functionality in all new subscriber homes and in all homes requiring replacement set-top boxes," the so-called AllVid proposal from which the coalition takes its name.

The FCC, under then-chairman Julius Genachowski, was looking to wed broadband, broadcast, cable and satellite programming services in a TV set-top device as a spur to the broadband deployment and adoption that remains job one for this commission as well.

Cable ops have countered that the result would be to deconstruct its programming service in violation of copyright, trademark, contract, licensing and other rights.

In his letter, dated Feb. 5, Powell pointed to the variety of alternatives to leased set-tops—Smart TVs, game consoles, phones, tablets—that deliver IP-based cable system lineups to viewers. Those include Android and Apple apps, Xbox 360, Samsung Smart TVs, and Roku.

Not to mention, though he did, the individual cable and broadcast nets that stream programming, including CNN, Comedy Central, ESPN, MTV, ABC, CBS and many more.

Then there are the competitive video services—Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, YouTube—available over those and other platforms and coming up with new programming of their own .

Powell argues that all those innovative delivery options are not the product of regulatory intervention or technology mandates.

Powell called it "remarkable" that the alliance would dismiss all those as limited options and not "true choice," while pushing the commission to choose "one universal solution" per a misreading of the Communications Act mandate (Section 629) to "create a competitive retail market for devices that can access cable video services."

He points out that it was the FCC's "prescribed technologies" approach to Section 629 that produced the CableCARD regime, which the marketplace "did not embrace."

"We have learned over the last decade that a prescriptive regulatory approach is simply not nimble enough to accommodate marketplace innovation," Powell wrote.

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.