Posts from fcc

ClearQAM - What It Is And Why It Matters

There are millions of homes and apartments around the country that have a TV connected to a cable but have no set-top box and no video service from their local cable provider. These TV viewers either moved into a home or apartment where the previous owner had cable and the wire was still lying around. Or they are getting their broadband Internet over cable. Either way, when you connect a cable directly to most modern TVs, you can get the broadcast channels in HD without a set top box. And in doing this, you are not breaking any laws. This is perfectly legal.

The technology behind this is called ClearQAM. QAM is a modulation scheme that allows the transmission of digital TV channels on an analog RF cable. Because of a number of rules and regulations, cable televesion companies are required to provide access to the broadcast channels in the clear – thus the name ClearQAM. This whole thing is outlined pretty well in this Engadget post from a few years ago.

There are other ways to get the broadcast channels without a set-top box. You can put up an antenna and pull down them over the air for free. But for many locations, the cable is a better way to get the broadcast channels reliably.

Why am I telling all of you this? Because the cable industry is currently lobbying the FCC for a rulemaking that would allow them to encrypt QAM and shut down this whole bypass mechanism causing millions of TVs to go dark. And there aren’t many voices out there opposing this rulemaking request. Our portfolio company Boxee‘s is one of the few that has spoken out. Their presentation to the FCC on this matter is online and is worth a quick read.

Getting rid of QAM isn’t a bad idea in the long run. But encrypting the broadcast channels is not the best way to do that. Putting direct IP access to the broadcast channels on the cables is a much better approach.

It has always been the policy of our government that the broadcast channels are meant to be freely available over the air and by other means. There is no reason to change this policy now just because the cable companies want every home and apartment to have one of their set-top boxes and a paying subscription from them.

If you would like to reach out to the FCC and let them know what you think of this proposed rulemaking, you can do that here.


Good Summary Of The FCC's Open Internet Rules

Barbara van Schewick, Director of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, and a leading academic voice in the Net Neutrality debate, has a good blog post about the FCC's adoption of Open Internet Rules last week. I've been traveling and out of the country since the FCC adopted these rules and have been meaning to get updated on what was finally adopted. I'm pleased to see that the final order was worded in a way that deals with some of our concerns.

In particular;

– Non discrimination: This is the key net neutrality provision for entrepreneurs and investors in internet based businesses. We need protection that those who control the last mile of internet access will not discriminate against certain services and favor others. We believe the ideal approach is an application agnostic standard. In the words of Commissioner Copps:

“In discussing the “no unreasonable discrimination” standard, we put particular emphasis on keeping control in the hands of users and preserving an application-blind network—a key part of making the Internet the innovative platform it is today.”

– Access fees: We believe that Internet access providers charging application providers for access to their customers should be prohibited. The order comes very close to doing so:

The text of the order clearly prohibits network providers from charging application and content providers for access to the network providers’ Internet service customers

However, it does provide the possibility of "paid prioritization" with a very high hurdle.

as a general matter,” arrangements of this kind [paid prioritization] are “unlikely” to be considered reasonable

– Wireless: We believe that the Open Internet Rules should be applied to both wireline and wireless networks. That didn't happen leading many to interpret it as the end of net neutrality for wireless networks. I am optimistic that the FCC will remain vigilant regarding open wireless networks and may push for wireless net neutrality in the future.

We emphasize that our decision to proceed incrementally with respect to mobile broadband at this time should not suggest that we implicitly approve of any provider behavior that runs counter to general open Internet principles.

Nothing is perfect that comes out of a political process and when you add in a negotiation between carriers and service providers, it is amazing we got anything of value. I think Chairman Genachowski, who is a friend of mine, did a terrific job on this and we thank him and his staff at the FCC for pushing these rules forward in a very difficult political climate.