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TiVo, Sony and others to FCC: 'gateways' should replace CableCARD

Ben Drawbaugh

All the comments to the FCC in response to the call for ideas to replace the failed CableCARD idea were due this week so we spent a little time reading a few of them and found some overwhelming trends. Everyone seems to applaud the death of CableCARD and is pushing for an end to the associated mandates as well as those related to 1394. Neither of these two ideas worked out as planned as is evident by the fact that most consumers don't use them. What's more interesting though is the recommendations and none were as detailed and thought out as TiVo's -- although we admit we didn't read them all. The idea TiVo and others are getting behind is what might be known as a gateway, which we envision would look a lot like a cable modem. The key here is that while various gateways would be available depending on the medium your preferred provider used (coax, satellite, fiber), they'd all share a common interface on the consumer side and as you might expect this common interface would be of the IP variety with standard internet protocols like HTTP and SSL on top of it.

The way this would work is that the gateway would support Ethernet, MoCA, WiFi or whatever physical connection that would connect it to your home network. Then any device could discover its services via something like Bonjour and then gain access to both linear and VOD content via HTTP, or whatever. This way TiVo or anyone else could create a device (DVR, smartphone, TV) that connects to the home network and discovers and accesses these services. TiVo argues that this model would help spur competition because it would allow the video providers to do their own thing on their own equipment and use whatever medium they desire for transmission, while at the same time give consumers the choice to access the content they paid for via any device that supports the standard protocols. TiVo does point out that the FCC needs to be careful or this gateway might become a gatekeeper. But the real key here though is that no single entity like CableLabs would be able to enforce restrictions on how you enjoy your content, but the gateway would have to offer all the same services that you can get with a provider issued set-top box. The other great thing about this idea is that consumer electronics companies could make just about any device work on cable, satellite or whatever. Which would also work in the providers favor because even if your provider decided it was time to rip and replace for the next new thing -- or you switch providers -- the video devices you bought would keep right on truckin'.

What is really up in the air though is exactly what standards this gateway would be required to support and while everyone seems to think it'd be great if it supported standards like DLNA and RVU, most don't seem to believe they should be mandatory. The other sticky point that wasn't exactly spelled out by TiVo comments was DRM. Obviously the content industry won't sign off on any plan that doesn't at least offer some levels of protection, so this is something that would have to be worked out. This of course could be as simple as using DTCP-IP or choosing a DRM standard like Microsoft's PlayReady or Apple's FairPlay, but any DRM would likely get in the way of a truly open system.

Overall we like this idea because not only is it simple enough that it might actually work, but because it still gives the operators the opportunity to keep its proprietary offerings -- for those who just don't care about things like DVRs and integrating internet services with traditional broadcast TV. In the end we really just want a choice when it comes to how we consume the content we pay for and just about anything has to be better than what we have now.

*Verizon has acquired AOL, Engadget's parent company. However, Engadget maintains full editorial control, and Verizon will have to pry it from our cold, dead hands.

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