Upgrade and Repack; Repeat Forever, August 8th, 2012 by Richard Bennett
National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell said Tuesday his Hill testimony about the future of video will focus on three things: 1 cable’s golden age is now; 2 technology is driving choice, removing friction points between cable and consumers including set-tops, navigation; and 3 the cable industry is not trying to thwart over-the-top video.
BOSTON — Most consumers have no idea what an M.V.P.D. is, but they mail a check to one every month. What they call Comcast or Time Warner Cable or DirecTV, the government calls a “multichannel video programming distributor,” or M.V.P.D. for short.
When that mouthful of a phrase was coined decades ago, it was pretty easy to identify what was a multichannel distributor — any cable or satellite company — and just as important, what wasn’t. But the Internet is changing that — so profoundly, in fact, that the Federal Communications Commission is now rethinking even the definition of the word “channel.”
We’re at a flashpoint in the evolution of television, and the battle lines are getting clearer. We have the pay TV providers who want to keep their high-dollar cable packages going even as broadband has the potential to break their bundle of channels. We also have content companies, some of whom are owned by the cable providers and others who are independent. All are trying to make the most money from their content even as digitization opens up new markets and risks associated with piracy.
Nine months ago, a tremendous controversy began with a simple e-mail:
“Gentlemen, The BART Police require the M-Line wireless from the Trans Bay Tube Portal to the Balboa Park Station, to be shut down today between 4 pm & 8,” wrote Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) construction supervisor Dirk Peter on August 11, 2011. (The Transbay Tube runs beneath the Bay, moving people to and from San Francisco; Balboa Park is a residential city neighborhood.) “Steve,” the note continued, “please help to notify all carriers.”
Conventional wisdom supposes the Internet was essentially invented overnight, that cell phones burst onto the scene in the late 1980s and that new communications technologies are brought to the market at a breakneck pace. What no one tells you is that the original 1990s’ Internet technology had been around since 1969. Cell phones? That technology was invented in 1947, but wasn’t approved for consumer use until 1982. And computer modems were first invented in the 1950s, only to have obsolete laws hold up mass market consumer adoption until after 2000. Imagine how better our lives would be had consumers gained access to these phenomenal communication innovations before the government bottleneck got in the way!
2012 has already witnessed historic Internet policy debates in the United States over digital copyright, online privacy, and cybersecurity. These issues have bitterly divided many organizations, academics, companies, and policymakers.
It comes as some relief, then, that the next major Net policy battle will unite almost everyone in a common cause: stopping the United Nations from taking over the Internet.