Goodbye CableCARD, hello "AllVid"
The Federal Communications Commission has asked for feedback on a new video interface to replace its failed CableCARD policy—an "AllVid" adapter that would, in the FCC's words, "act as an intermediary" between home theater gear and pay-TV services.
Under the proposal, cable, satellite, or telco video providers would send their signals "to a small adapter on the customer's premises that would present a standard interface to all consumer devices," explained FCC Chair Julius Genachowski at Wednesday's Open Commission meeting. "The adapter could be connected to the customer's TVs, computers, or other devices that can display multichannel video programming and Internet content."
The idea would target four policy objectives with one stone, Genachowski says, allowing device makers to more freely innovate, letting video providers roll out new services without requiring couch potatoes to replace their current equipment, creating more consumer choices, and promoting broadband adoption as TV watchers experiment with Internet video.
"Just as a shopping mall presents customers with numerous retail outlets, smart video devices would offer viewers a single window into pay TV content and Internet content—as well as content that a viewer has already bought or archived," Genachowski said.
Record and watch
The agency's just released Notice of Inquiry on this AllVid idea politely describes it as a "successor technology to CableCARD." The latter device—a little portable data wedge for your set-top box—was supposed to let consumers easily pick and choose which type of video navigation device they wanted. But it didn't. Early CableCARD services lacked popular two-way video options like menu guides. And the tru2way software designed to improve the technology has been slow to roll out. Thus the FCC clearly sees 'AllVid' as a fundamental fix for the CableCARD flop.
Not that the agency has completely given up on CableCARD. In the interim, the Commission is proposing various new rules to streamline CableCARD installation, device certification, pricing, and billing. Among other provisions, the rules would require cable companies to list their CableCARD fees on a line-item of the consumer's bill.
Both the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and the American Cable Association sent us press releases hailing the proposals, which would also make it easier for providers to offer low cost Digital Terminal Adapters, allowing consumers with older analog TV sets to get digital cable.
Bottom line: "Installation and support for a CableCARD used in a retail device would cease to be more inconvenient than for one used in a leased device," Genachowski promised. "And cable operators would be required to offer CableCARDs that enable a retail device to record one program while displaying another"—a feature that many cable-service-offered DVRs already include.
No help wanted
Some of the Commissioners are less impressed than others with this "AllVid" idea.
"The idea of accessing the Internet through the TV screen is certainly attractive—so attractive, in fact, that the marketplace already appears to be delivering on that vision without any help from the government," noted Robert M. McDowell. "A quick Internet search revealed more than a dozen different devices available to consumers who wish to bring some or all of the Internet to their television screens, ranging from specialized web video products and software applications to elaborate home theater PCs and even online gaming consoles."
But the FCC is required by Congress to come up with some kind of viable system for consumers to buy and use video devices "from manufacturers, retailers, and other vendors not affiliated with any multichannel video programming distributor," in the Telecommunications Act's words.
So consider "AllVid" just another version of Henry IV's immortal battle cry: "Once more unto the breach."