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[ NNSquad ] Ramifications of "Universal" Set-Top Boxes for Net Neutrality

I think it's important to consider the ramifications of the FCC's push
toward "universal" set-top boxes for Net Neutrality concerns.  In this
discussion I include VDSL-delivered services like U-verse under the
descriptive term "cable" for most purposes.

Such "universal" boxes exist in a limited sense today.  Relatively
recent TiVo units are an example.  The TiVo HD tunes cable channels
via cableCARDS and the Internet via standard 100BASE-TX.  Programs
from either source all end up in the same Now Playing list.  YouTube
can stream to the box, as can various movie services.  The same films
can in many cases be viewed via the cable company's channels or the
Internet (though not necessarily with the same quality due to Internet
bandwidth limitations).  One glaring omission is the inability of the
TiVo to process cable company PPV (pay-per-view) or other VOD
(video-on-demand) services.  This aspect is an enormous can of
political worms, and even when TiVos begin to support these functions
it will apparently be via a heavily restricted independent mode that
emulates a cable company box and is directly controlled by the cable

But picture a future where most every set top box in most households
has both cable and Internet, or satellite and Internet connections --
and can receive streaming programming from either.  For many persons,
the same entity providing cable TV service will provide Internet
service.  Some will have separate TV and Internet service providers.

Over time, the distinction between programming delivered via the
digital "TV" portion of the cable and the Internet portion of the
cable will become increasingly blurred.  But what isn't likely to blur
will be the desire of a content provider ISP who also provides general
Internet access services to maximize the extent to which subscribers
select "internal" vs. "external" content.

If you want to see a particular PPV film, it's in the interests of the
cable company to have you pay them to see it -- not for you to pay
some outside Internet-based service.  A range of factors largely
*under the content-providing ISP's control* will have enormous impact
on these choices, including Internet speeds provided, costs per month,
*bandwidth and usage caps*, and so on.

And naturally this situation will be massively exacerbated by
universal set-top boxes, which will make it easy for subscribers to
make such selections on the fly.

I have difficulty seeing how this universe can be made to function
effectively in the absence of some sort of regulatory regime to ensure
transparency and fairness in situations where the Internet access
providers themselves are providing their own content that directly
competes with content from the external Internet.

NNSquad Moderator

----- Forwarded message from Lauren Weinstein <lauren@vortex.com> -----

Date: Sun, 6 Dec 2009 14:48:46 -0800
From: Lauren Weinstein <lauren@vortex.com>
Subject: [ NNSquad ] FCC pushes for TV set-top boxes that access programming
	from Internet
To: nnsquad@nnsquad.org

FCC pushes for TV set-top boxes that access programming from Internet

http://bit.ly/89cAql  (L.A. Times)

NNSquad Moderator

----- End forwarded message -----