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Set-Top Debate: The Next Episode

Remember the much rumored Apple iTV? It was thought to be the “one more thing” Steve Jobs had bequeathed to the world, soon to emerge posthumously from his Cupertino labs.

It would be much more than Apple TV, the existing box which can display Internet video on your TV. The iTV was going to do it all. It would use Apple’s software genius to blend everything from the live broadcast of the Super Bowl to latest season of “House of Cards” streaming from Netflix in one offering as easy and fun to use as your iPhone.

One of the main reasons something like the iTV hasn’t happened yet is that Apple and other OEMs like it are having trouble getting access to programming served up on today’s cable and satellite networks. OEMs have wrestled with content and service providers for easier access to programming since way before there was an Internet streaming anything.

In an effort to break the logjam, the White House weighed in last Friday. It was the last day for public comment on a proposed rulemaking at the Federal Communications Commission on creating an open interface to video content.

Calling the set-top box “the mascot for a new initiative” for greater competition, President Barack Obama signed an executive order requiring all government agencies to make a list within 30 days of all areas where action is needed to open up greater competition. Agencies need to file a plan for how to handle such situations within 60 days, then keep reporting back on their efforts every six months.

It’s a pretty big deal for a sitting president to speak out on an issue involving industry minutiae such as applications programming interfaces. But these APIs involve big bucks.

That’s why 261 people weighed in on the FCC proposal so far. The next round of comments ends May 16, unless the FCC extends the deadline as some players have asked.

The Walt Disney Company was one of the commenters. It noted its general counsel met with an FCC commissioner on April 6 to air its concerns about proposals for an open interface. Disney wants to know how it would protect its content given it has no contracts in place with potential set-top makers such as Apple.

Service provider Mediacom said the FCC plan would jeopardize a “recently announced plan to invest $1 billion over the next three years to, among other projects, upgrade and expand its national broadband network, which …will make one gigabit per second speeds available to three million homes and businesses…in 1,500 communities in 22 states.”

A group of Black, Hispanic and Gay and Lesbian business groups said they feared the move would make their content harder to find and view. In addition, it would let “large tech giants intercept TV programming, [and] repackage it…and pile on additional ads without paying anything to the content’s creators or owners.”

Financial analysts at Raymond James said the rules were not needed and could have ““unintended consequences.” With the shift to IP video and over-the-top services, “the market has begun a migration that will result in a meaningful change over the next few years,” it said citing its report “FCC Proposal Not the BYOB Party the Commission Envisions .”

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EE Times.

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