Standards “would thwart, not advance, innovation” and “entail crippling delays”  because they are “extremely time consuming, often divisive, and sometimes used by one faction to block the progress of another or to promote its own intellectual property portfolio”.

It would be easy to dismiss comments like these in the Cable industry’s latest response to the FCC set top box inquiry (#27) that question the wisdom and feasibility of a standardized multi-network gateway as just so much diversionary polemics, masked as the caution of experience.  But a closer look is merited in part because as discussed before, royalty-free standards can be America’s broadband advantage.

On the first point — the wisdom of a multi-network gateway — the NCTA has a point.  Adding another intervening box between your TV and your TV content may have a certain quick-fix political logic in the tortured history of the 1996 Telco Act’s goal of competitive services and devices.

But the important question isn’t how many boxes it should take to hook your TV to the Internet (or any network), but how few — and that will take an Internet-acceptable open video standard.

And on this score, the existing gateway initiatives have little to offer, and are even dismissive of the core need in the first place.  The Digital Living Network Alliance, seen by some as the leading gateway standards group, said flippantly in their filing to the FCC:

“there are few (if any) standards for Internet video. Another way of looking at it is there are too many standards for Internet video. DLNA Guidelines by themselves do not solve this problem.”

Instead, DLNA promotes a philosophy and architecture of “indirection”:

“network-specific hindrances can be addressed by ‘adding one layer of indirection'”

The software domain maxim that DLNA bases its strategy on — “any software problem can be solved by adding one layer of indirection” — is well-known in software development, but it is a stretch to assume it is therefore a particularly appropriate or adequate policy architecture for the multiple networking, standards, industry structure and business problems of set top boxes meeting the Internet.

DLNA and NCTA are far from alone in proposing variants of the theme of the devolving cycle of standards pragmaticism — ambivalence — doubting — bashing (check the UK version here).

But there is a better way. Instead of bashing standards, standards groups, industry groups, participants, and regulators should turn their focus and energies to how to make standards work.

References

REPLY COMMENTS OF THE NATIONAL CABLE & TELECOMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATION ON NBP PUBLIC NOTICE #27

January 27, 2010

http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7020384091

“- Proposals to require an ANSI standardized gateway solution would entail crippling delays. Standards activities are extremely time consuming, often divisive, and sometimes used by one faction to block the progress of another or to promote its own intellectual property portfolio. It would require years just to get the standards developed, at which point products would still have to be designed, manufactured, and brought to market.

– Subjecting this dynamic marketplace to an ANSI standards process in which each industry participant can delay or veto the innovations of the other would thwart, not advance, innovation.

– These demands call for massive standards activities required in multiple standards bodies for multiple services, interfaces, and technologies. Standardization and related intellectual property clearances are extremely time consuming.

– Zenith, the intellectual property holder for the rejected VSB system, sought to use the process of amending SCTE 40 to put VSB transport into SCTE 40. It slowed the standards process by submitting the majority of objections to SCTE 40 and an unsuccessful appeal to ANSI, in an effort to impose VSB transport onto the cable architecture. This process took years to resolve.

– Under the CEA standards process, IS-6 became IS-132, which became EIA-542, which became CEA-542B. It took more than 13 years to produce the very simple Cable Channel Plan standard. This slow process was one of the reasons that led to the development of CableLabs, so that the cable industry could innovate more rapidly.

– DBS could not have offered MPEG-4 if it had to await elaborate industry consensus or rule change.

– AT&T still would not have deployed U-verse if it were required to wait until IPTV issues were set through industry consensus or by an ANSI-accredited body.

– Had Verizon deferred its hybrid IP/QAM offering until such processes were completed, it too would still be waiting to enter the marketplace.

COMMENTS OF THE DIGITAL LIVING NETWORK ALLIANCE

http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7020354067

These network-specific hindrances can be addressed by “adding one layer of indirection”7—a gateway device.

As some have already commented, there are few (if any) standards for Internet video.10 Another way of looking at it is there are too many standards for Internet video. DLNA Guidelines by themselves do not solve this problem; however, a DLNA gateway device which is able to receive Internet video is able to bridge that content onto a DLNA home network.11

Last August I questioned if the BBC-led hybrid DTV Project Canvas was “seduced by the cynical allure of a semi-open ‘standards-based open environment‘” .

Many kudos to the DTG — the lead UK DTV standards group — who today released its tough-love “parallel process” criticism in the BBC Trust oversight consultation.

To wit:  “it is unreasonable for the Canvas JV to claim that they have fully engaged with industry” while running “a parallel process” operated “separately from, and regardless of,” the DTG’s own standards work, with “lack of clarity over the IPR status”.

The BBC Trust should heed the words that “only a mandatory requirement for the Canvas JV to engage with industry to deliver an agreed specification can achieve widespread market success”.

Hang in there, DTG, there’s standards-bashing hiding by behind pragmatic waffling on this side of the pond too.

But to respin a Churchillian quip:  standards are the worst form of industry governance, except for all the rest.

References

http://robglidden.com/2009/08/trust-but-verify-ipr-bbc-project-canvas/

So why shouldn’t Project Canvas also be built on royalty-free standards, advancing rather than opposing the thrust of the Open Internet and World Wide Web that has enabled the Project Canvas opportunity in the first place?

Is the BBC slipping unthinkingly into a common parlance of the day – seduced by the cynical allure of a semi-open “standards-based open environment” — open enough to help me, closed enough to hurt my competitors, with vendor complicity bought by the potential competitive advantage of conveniently under-disclosed patent royalties or other control points?

This is an under-addressed question that the BBC Executive, BBC Trust and proposed joint venture have skirted so far in this consultation, and should be fully addressed before proceeding.  A Free-To-View TV Internet is both a TV and a network stewardship.

http://dtg.org.uk/publications/responses/DTG_Canvas_Prov_Con_Resp_Final.pdf

[F]eedback from our membership indicates that there remains widespread concern in the industry that there is a parallel process in place – with a Canvas specification being developed between the Canvas JV and its innovation partners separately from, and regardless of, the DTG’s Connected TV specification work.
..
Without the release of these documents we believe it is unreasonable for the Canvas JV to claim that they have fully engaged with industry via the DTG. The failure by the BBC or the Canvas JV to release this documentation to the DTG has severely impacted upon the ability of the DTG’s Connected TV Working Groups to deliver a Connected TV specification in a timely manner.

DTG members have voiced concern that there is a lack of clarity over the IPR status of Canvas technical documentation. As a result, the DTG’s membership believes that the Trust should make approval of the BBC Executive’s Canvas proposal conditional on the clarification of the precise IPR position of the Canvas commercial requirements, technical documentation and specification.

Feedback we have received from our membership indicates that the consensus among our members is that only a mandatory requirement for the Canvas JV to engage with industry to deliver an agreed specification can achieve widespread market success and represent the best interests of the UK consumers and TV Licence Fee payers.