Today's Broadband Plan has great things to say on the topic of video device compatibility–the idea that consumers should be able to access the video content they pay for on any device. It recommends that the Commission pursue a “gateway” approach: a lightweight model that allows for compatibility between consumer devices and networks such as cable, satellite, or FiOS TV. Late last year, Public Knowledge and others filed a petition with the FCC asking that it follow this exact approach–a petition cited heavily by the Plan.
The gateway won't be that complicated–it's just a way of translating the different subscription video networks into a standard output, in the same way that cable, DSL, and satellite modems all communicate with different communications networks but provide standard outputs, such as Ethernet. (Box 4-1 of the plan uses this exact analogy.)
Here's some of the Plan's language:
RECOMMENDATION 4.12: The FCC should initiate a proceeding to ensure that all multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) install a gateway device or equivalent functionality in all new subscriber homes and in all homes requiring replacement set-top boxes, starting on or before Dec. 31, 2012.
A lot of entrepreneurs skip trying to integrate cable or other subscription video services into their devices, focusing on pure over-the-top video. Over-the-top video is a fantastic new competitor, but the one-to-many structure and economies of scale of “old fashioned” electronic media should not be overlooked. Consumers will benefit from choice in devices, and from devices that mix over-the-top and other video programming. Use of Internet video, and thus demand for and adoption of broadband, will be helped if these devices are available.
The general rule that innovation comes from outsiders is true for video networks no less than for the Internet. (Cable itself was once an outsider that the broadcasters felt threatened by, after all.) If it's followed up by an appropriate rulemaking proceeding, the Broadband Plan is a huge win for those who want to open the gateway to video device competition.