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

Commission believes set-top innovations can help with broadband adoption

The FCC 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 commission 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 is time for a set-top that works across all
delivery platforms, able to deliver content from both MVPD's 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.

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."

"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," said National Cable &
Telecommunications Association spokesman Brian Dietz. "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. "