The FCC Video Device Innovation Notice  asks one of the most fundamentally central questions to the prospect of not only a viable Broadband Plan for America, but also to the very future of the Open Internet that has revolutionized communications systems of all humanity:
“How could the Commission develop a standard that would achieve a retail market for devices that can attach to all MVPD [Multichannel Video Programming Distributor] networks and access Internet-based video sources?”
There can be little doubt that video is a central broadband driver, but simply put, today there is no standard for “Internet-based video”. Just ask the World Wide Web Consortium, who has struggled for years to no success to find an acceptable video standard to incorporate into HTML5, the first major update to the core Web standard in a decade .
Of course, there is a lot of video on the Internet, but it is controlled by a hodge-podge of proprietary and so-called “semi-open” plug-ins that do not meet even the loosest definition of “standard” and certainly nothing that comes near meeting the requirements, processes, and practices of the standardizing bodies of the Web and Internet.
So developing a standard that could attach to both MVPD and Internet video would require in the first place developing a standard for Internet video, on terms acceptable to the Open Internet. The FCC has much to contribute on this score, as do broadcasters in the burgeoning EBU-led “hybrid broadcast-broadband” initiative, which has already developed clear and measurable requirements specifically for hybrid, multi-network video standards .
But the non-solution to this problem is as clear as it is unacceptable. Forcing the Open Internet to adopt the closed, “walled-garden” model and captured, controlled specifications of status-quo gridlock that are dogging digital TV, digital cable, and IPTV, or concede to proprietary control, would certainly damage the Open Internet and perpetuate the dysfunctional tendencies of “standards as trade association lobbying” that underpin this FCC notice.
The right way forward is equally clear. Standardize, in appropriate organizations and with appropriate oversight, in the Open Internet model of uncaptured, royalty-free process, the needed elements: codecs, transport stream, conditional access, and UI middleware.
The good news is that media standards gridlock has been a global challenge addressed by regulators in retail-scale national standards, and initiatives already underway on all of these elements point to best practices, way forward to success, and pitfalls to avoid . Gridlock, capture, patent overcharging, and proprietary control – key underlying contributors to the absence of the robust retail, unaffiliated device markets as contemplated by Section 629 and this notice — are not the only inevitable outcome, they can be addressed .
The Commission should evaluate these activities and incorporate appropriate lessons into a proactive video standardization element of the broadband plan for America, one that envisions video standards to embrace, empower, and leverage the best of the Open Internet, not one that protects walled gardens through silos of pseudo-standards and control points.
Notes are available in the FCC comment filing available here.