[opendtv] Re: TV Technology: Hey FCC: #theboxainttheproblem
- From: Craig Birkmaier <brewmastercraig@xxxxxxxxxx>
- To: opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Wed, 24 Feb 2016 12:24:19 -0500
On Feb 23, 2016, at 9:39 PM, Manfredi, Albert E
I figured I couldn't be the only person wondering how the FCC could be so
retro-thinking on their standard MVPD STB proposal. Larry Thaler has a
slightly different take. His idea is more to encourage innovation by opening
up broadband pipes to other ISPs, and let these other ISPs innovate. The end
result is the same, where the old MPEG-2 TS broadcasts get migrated to IP
delivery (due to consumer demand).
Unfortunately, this has little if anything to do with the mandates that
Congress placed upon the FCC to open up the market for MVPD STBs, first in the
1996 Telcom Act updates, then again, with Section 106 of the STELA
Reauthorization Act of 2014.
Opening up a MVPDs broadband pipes to other ISPs is meaningless, as we saw when
the FCC ordered the Telcos to open up their wires to allow competitors to
resell data services. And today's ISPs do little more than providing the pipe.
Some may offer e-mail, but many people - if not most - use third party services
like Gmail, Yahoo, iCloud, etc.
The real innovation, as we have seen with OTT video services, takes place at
the application level, typically accessing content hosted in the cloud.
But even in spite of this politically more difficult (IMO) idea of his,
Thaler seems to have gotten the main point, and apparently, so have a couple
of MVPDs! Who knew?
"That doesn't mean the cable industry is out of options. Current IP hardware
is light years beyond the cable box at a fraction of the cost of renting an
STB. Heck, my 10-year-old TiVo exceeds anything I've seen in a cable STB. But
MVPDs are getting smarter. They know their video services are at risk and
that fact is driving innovation such as Charter and Time Warner's recent
adoption of Roku as an IP STB."
There is nothing groundbreaking here, other than the fact that Charter and TWC
are making most of their live streams available over their IP (broadband)
networks. This enables them to continue to control the user experience, the
"storefront" that Thaler refers to, via Charter and TWC Apps that run on some
Once the MVPD switches to IP delivery, many aspects of the box issue do indeed
disappear. Bert has been a strong advocate of this position!
But there are limitations that the FCC enumerates in the NPRM, and that Charter
and TWC point out in the details of using their Apps on the Roku boxes.
1. The App and Roku box can only be used when connected to the MVPD umbilical
cord of a user that subscribes to both the TV service and broadband. The App
does not work via Internet connections outside the point of service due to
geographic contract limitations and FCC rules.
2. Both Charter and TWC note that some channels are not available via the Roku
Apps due to contractual limitations (both specifically talk about problems with
rights for "local" channels).
There you go. And with TVE, standard PCs should also be able to play.
So yes, if the MVPDs quickly move from QAM to IP, much of the un boxing problem
goes away. But as Thaler points out:
The theory is that this would permit new, innovative, store-bought devices
to plug into this adapter while permitting, in fact encouraging, the cable
companies to keep their old networks unchanged. Long live QAM!
So once again, the MVPDs can drag this out as long as they want, until, as
Practically speaking, by the time the standards under discussion are firmed
up and pass the inevitable lawsuits that will be thrown in their path, they
will be obsolete. They are halfway there already.
I would also add that the FCC is a bit naive and misleading about the notion
that MVPDs are already offering their content over the Internet via Apps. In
fact, these Apps and the content are being offered by the content owners - the
only role that the MVPDs play is authenticating that the device accessing a TVE
service has the credentials (i.e. they are paying) for that service. And TVE
services, for the most part are not geographically limited.
The role of authentication servers is interesting when viewed from the
perspective of the NPRM, which the FCC claims is based in part on the recent
work of an advisory committee:
The Chairman appointed 19 members to the Downloadable Security Technical
Advisory Committee (“DSTAC”), and the committee submitted its report to the
Commission on August 28, 2015.33 The DSTAC Report gave an account of the
increasing number of devices on which consumers are viewing video content,
including laptops, tablets, phones, and other “smart,” Internet-connected
The Advisory Committee offered two proposals - later in the NPRM the FCC noted
it was not happy with either, but might live with both...
The DSTAC Report offered two proposals regarding the non-security elements and
two proposals regarding the security elements of a system that could implement
Section 629. For the non- security elements, the DSTAC Report presented both an
MVPD-supported proposal that is based on proprietary applications and would
allow MVPDs to retain control of the consumer experience,38 and a consumer
electronics-supported proposal that is based on standard protocols that would
let a competing device or application offer a consumer experience other than
the one the MVPD offers.39 With respect to security, the DSTAC Report presented
both an MVPD-supported proposal based on digital rights management (similar to
what Internet-based video services use to protect their video content),40 and a
consumer electronics-supported proposal based on link protection (similar to
how content is protected as it travels from a Blu-ray player to a television
The MVPD industry proposal appears to rely on in-band signaling tied to the
existing QAM based streams. The CE industry proposal appears to rely upon an IP
based server that would deliver the three streams of data the FCC is asking
for, while the program data would be in-band (possibly migrating to IP over
The problem with the CE approach is that it requires a broadband connection;
not too difficult for wired MVPDs, but an extra expense for subscribers who do
not want broadband. Clearly not plug and play like the Telco RJ - 11 solution.
And broadband may not be available at all for DBS subscribers (hence the
comments about the need for a DBS supplied box to deliver the data streams).
I would also note that Thaler was wrong about the lack of innovation by the
telcos after the court ordered unbundling of phone devices. The telcos
developed Caller ID, Voice Mail, call forwarding, and other services after the
So, there we have it. No need to go 20 years retro on us, FCC. Problem solved.
I strongly suggest you file your comments with the FCC Bert. That's what the
NPRM process is all about!
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