It's Time to Open Up Access to Video Content

Are you reading this on your iPhone or do you own a cell phone? You can thank the foresight of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the deregulation of the telecom industry which unleashed the current technology revolution. Now it's time to end the cable box monopoly.

The set-top box has become an icon of the cable and satellite video distribution companies. Until recently, with the advent of smart TVs and other "smart" digital viewing devices (tablets, entertainment consoles, smart phones), the cable box represented the only way for viewers of the programming available on the myriad cable and satellite channels to get access to their video content.

These set-top boxes represent "closed" technology, using proprietary protocols for security, authorization, and access to the video content. As a result, competition for providing these services has been stifled and the prices for the set-top boxes has remained unreasonably high while every other aspect of digital technology has become dramatically less expensive.

The recent proposal by the FCC to open up the set-top box technology by creating open source technology and standardized programming protocols would enable competitive designs and pricing strategies, creating better choices for the consumer, a better overall experience, and opening the door for future innovations in an area where this has been stagnant for far too long. Copyright protection and the security of customer information will be addressed by open source technologies already developed, which by their very nature have evolved to provide some of the most secure services possible.

As with the deregulation of the telephone industry, opening the set-top box architecture and allowing it to integrate streaming video content with the standard and subscription cable fare we are all used to will inevitably lead to the creation of new innovations in video content delivery, creating new businesses and business opportunities in the process. This will lead to creating new opportunities for small and minority content producers to get their programming distributed on an equal footing, in an arena formerly dominated and controlled by only the largest corporate content producers.

For those who remember what it was like before the original Bell Telephone monopoly was dismantled, your typical access to telecommunications consisted of a rented telephone, an AM/FM radio, and a television that received four channels, if you were lucky and could get your 'rabbit ears' antenna that sat atop the television adjusted just right. The dissolution of that monopoly has led directly to today's world of cellular phones, hundreds of ultra-high fidelity digital television channels, and most importantly, the internet, where among myriad other capabilities, you have access to both audio and video programming whose scope and technical quality could only be dreamt of during the monopoly years.

Deregulation and adoption of open technologies for the current set-top box will lead to a comparable explosion in services, lower cost of access to these services as a result of competition, and a substantial increase in innovation as more players become involved in the mix. And once again, the customer will benefit greatly, and in ways which we may currently barely conceive of as technological evolution is allowed to take place in what was a formerly closed environment.

I encourage everyone to make their voice heard in support of opening up the set-top box by reaching out to the FCC and your elected representative. It's long past time.