The initials F-C-C don't usually engender excitement, but at least according to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, it's ground zero for most of the broadcasting, wireless and high-bandwidth landline innovations we'll see in the next couple years. Martin spilled on everything from the 700MHz auction to a rumoured DirecTV/Dish network merger. (Seriously.) They covered a lot of stuff, here's the Cliff's Notes:
700 MHz auction and analog-to-digital TV switchover
• Martin says the neat stuff he saw at CES last year led in part to the 700MHz auction open-access rules
• He thinks it's "possible" we'll see 700MHz devices within a year—which is why the "hard" analog cutoff date of Feb. 19, 2009 is important
• Speaking of, the cutoff date is engraved in frickin' stone, people—no extensions
• He has no interest in "any particular company winning," just wants someone to make the minimum bid that would enforce open access
• Regarding big bidder Verizon, Martin said it "may win" the auction (Freudian slip?)
• Since poor broadband penetration in rural areas is the main reason we're so far behind Asia, the 700MHz will serve as a good bridge, and might even become the new broadband platform
• Neither Martin nor CEA chief Gary Shapiro have any love for cable—no wonder the FCC's been reaming them
• "We've seen a significant decrease in prices" in everything the FCC regulates except cable—that's gonna change
• It is "critical" that consumer-electronic devices are able to attach to cable networks and do two-way communication without a set-top box (i.e., two-way CableCARD is mandatory)
• Proposed pay-per-channel cable is a "real market solution" to cable sucking balls and "I'm doing everything I can" to make it happen
• Independent content providers such as NFL Network need to be able to get their shows on cable
Comcast's Alleged Blockage of BitTorrent
• He's going to investigate it (FCC investigates "all complaints") and make sure no one is being blocked from access in a "discriminatory way"
• If a company engaged in "reasonable network practice" for traffic management they should be honest about it
Satellite Radio and TV
• The FCC will look at XM and Sirius merger proposal "soon," but "isn't sure" it'll clear all the hurdles—awaiting on Department of Justice
• Regarding a potential, but by no means proposed, merger of DirecTV and Dish, he doesn't know whether the XM-Sirius thing would set a precedent; at the bare minimum they'd have to enforce the same price protection XM and Sirius are proposing
• "We've done some very significant steps over the last three years" toward increasing the options for broadband—in particular letting telcos get into IPTV so they'd invest in fibre optic pipes; busting up cable apartment contracts, etc.
• Wants to redefine the term "broadband" to higher speeds—200Kbps is not broadband and people are getting hosed
• "We need to make sure that consumers have fair use, reasonable expectations" that they can "copy things and use them themselves" which is "not only fair but important, and we need to continue to protect that."
• "I do believe that fair use" and protecting what "consumers are able to do in their home on their devices" is the "guiding principle," and that's a "reasonable and fair" expectation
In sum, more openness, more competition, more consumer protections—in theory. It could be a great year for us across the board at the expense of closed industries, particularly cable and wireless. I actually feel like the government is working for us for a change.