Yesterday’s kickoff of the FCC’s Broadband Plan proceedings were broadcast over the Internet in a proprietary video format.Standards "a key element in broadband deployment"

Worse, it was likely converted from a standards-based format to a proprietary format before it was put on the Internet! (The tip-off is that the closed-captioning overlay was already composited in).

Clearly, a proprietary broadband internet would not be, borrowing one Commissioner’s phrase, an “enlightened public policy” for America’s Broadband Plan.  The FCC’s notice of inquiry states (emphasis added):

“We also note that the development of equipment and protocol standards is a key element in broadband deployment and seek comment on the appropriate role of the Commission in facilitating the development of such standards.”

So here is a clear, actionable role for the Commission — use standards.   Just say no to proprietary formats.

Statements by Commissioners echoed the historic policy importance and high stakes of this proceeding (emphasis added):

Broadband can be the great enabler that restores America’s economic well-being”…

…. “the most important public policy initiative affecting broadband since the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996” …

…. “it is critical that our plan be competitively and technologically neutral … our plan must not favor one particular technology or type of provider over another, even inadvertently”

Please do not inadvertently favor turning the open Internet into a proprietary one in the name of broadband policy.

What would the Internet look like today if history had been just slightly different?

Say for example the Internet’s open, royalty-free foundation — protocols, HTML, etc. — hadn’t mostly won out?

Leaving only proprietary solutions or shifting interest groups (and their designates) maneuvering to disadvantage, overcharge, or end-run each other as the only — and underwhelming — drivers of deployment?

Unimaginable?  Improbable?  Hardly.  Welcome to daily life in the chronically-stunted US Interactive TV near-industry, little known outside its own community, which bared its soul this week at the superbly-run TV of Tomorrow Conference.

Don’t get me wrong, the US  interactive TV “ecosystem” — a term that when used at the event sparked discussions of sharks and survival — is as vibrant, passion-filled, and technically gifted as any you’ll find.

And ground-zero relevant, sitting squarely at the multi-industry techno-policy nexus of broadcasting, cable, broadband & wireless.  Multiplatform TV and “over the top” TV — Internet video to the TV without a gatekeeping operator or PC — are yet more cutting edges that the event considered in light of the US interactive TV experience.  But missed boats, like the millions of subsidized US DTV converter boxes which because of overpriced and/or controlled ITV specifications lack interactivity to speak of, merited no discussion.

But as one of the several impressive award winners evoked — the very idea of Interactive TV in the US can seem like a toxic relationship that keeps dysfunctionally drawing back an incredible amalgam of talent.

It may be tempting to write the whole movement off as some cautionary tale of the perils of convergence, a “Tragedy of the Anti-commons“, or a Darwinian techno-niche.

But can America really afford another underperforming, gridlocked opportunity, stalled in the starting gate?  Can’t this gifted, visionary community offer more?

The simple, compelling answer is “go open”.  Embrace a royalty-free, truly open approach.  All of the controlled and/or royalty-bearing specifications are available royalty free, an open video movement is gaining steam, and TV patent-pool lock-ups are under assault.  Even the long industry-captured US FCC may be willing to hear new ideas.

Admittedly, the thought of “going open” at the event seemed beyond the collective imagination of the US interactive ecosystem. The topic was skirted and slammed in a fiesty roundtable at the end of one day on the break-out potential of over-the-top video.

The reasons against going open are easy to list.  Too late/slow/hard.  Too risky.  The powers that be would never allow it, and would crush any dare to try.  “Someone” (usually the proprietary set top I’ve developed or hope to get venture-funded) will provide the industry-opening breakout.  I’ve got, or will get, my crumb, so don’t rock the boat.  I’ll get my own clever path to the TV, and everyone will get on board.  Standards take too long.

Each true in the small, tragic in the large.

ITV-ers unite:  demand a real, and really open, industry!