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Powell Pushes Marketplace as Video Uniter

As the FCC contemplates whether and how to spur the creation of a universal gateway for traditional and web video content -- per its open AllVid proceeding -- as well as spur a retail set-top market, cable operators continue to argue that the marketplace can handle, and is handling, the heavy lifting on both those fronts.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski Thursday, National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell pointed to the recent National Show in Chicago, and Genachowski's firsthand witnessing of the innovations there to argue that "Congress and the Commission's video device goals are already being achieved in the marketplace."

Powell said he shares the chairman's goal of "a fully competitive" retail set-top marketplace.

Powell said the cable industry is committed to open web standards and technologies driven by innovation and user preferences and managed to protect content and customer privacy. All that, he suggested, is achievable and being achieved "without regulation or the need for technology mandates."

He pointed to examples of set-top boxes already combining TV and Web content. One of the reasons the FCC launched the proceeding, in addition to trying to goose the retail market in set-tops, was to drive broadband adoption by more seamlessly wedding online and traditional content in the TV set since 99% of the population already has a TV, compared to only 80%-85% with computers.

He also pointed to the TV Everywhere expansion to smartphones and tablets, cloud-based interfaces from Comcast enabling new apps, social networking and searchable guides, home networking and more.

"The problem that remains in this marketplace is not the need for a single guiding regulatory prescription," like the FCC's proposed AllVid solution, writes Powell. "The marketplace is at a critical juncture, inviting participants to make major bets and even more major investments in technology to meet rapidly developing consumer demand with rapidly changing technological tools. This kind of innovation is about risk taking. The environment that invites the greatest risk taking is one with the certainty that regulators will not step in and displace new technologies or new investments."

NCTA has argued that an AllVid device as a means of forced unbundling of its programming at the set-top and turning cable operators into "wholesalers of programming for reuse and repackaging by retail equipment providers," threatening the business model of an industry built on aggregating and delivering a bundled service.

Powell's letter emphasizes that the industry business model is already changing to reflect greater flexibility, choice and delivery options because that is what the marketplace and customers require.