Broadband Providers: Devices OK to Attach

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and a group of broadband providers on Wednesday announced a set of principles that would allow consumers to attach devices to broadband video networks.

The series of principles, designed to ensure the commercial availability of devices that attach to Internet Protocol-enabled video networks, was endorsed by large broadband providers AT&T, Verizon Communications and BellSouth. They call for open standards for consumer electronic devices such as set-top boxes and digital recorders, and the broadband providers said they will strive for "enough nationwide commonality" in their video networks to allow nationwide compatibility.

The telecom providers are rolling out IP video networks to compete with cable television. These new networks will "provide consumers across the nation with a revolutionary new way to access their favorite video programs when and where they want," Gary Shapiro, CEA president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "In order to realize the full potential of this brave new world, consumers must be able to choose from the exciting array of innovative new devices being developed by consumer electronics manufacturers."

The ability to attach devices to broadband networks is part of a controversial concept called net neutrality, currently being debated in the U.S. Congress. Backers of net neutrality want Congress to pass a law prohibiting the owners of broadband networks from slowing or blocking websites or applications offered by competing companies and from blocking devices sold by competing companies. With a small group of large providers currently controlling most broadband connections in the United States, a net neutrality law is needed to keep them from providing preferential treatment to their own products and services, say net neutrality backers, including Google and Yahoo.

Broadband providers, including AT&T, BellSouth and Comcast, have opposed a net neutrality law, saying large providers have no plans to block content or devices. A net neutrality law could limit broadband providers’ ability to manage their networks, they say. In addition, BellSouth and other providers have talked of charging websites extra for faster connections than nonpaying customers have.

This week, network equipment provider Cisco Systems joined broadband providers in opposing a net neutrality law, saying the U.S. government should intervene only after problems occur. "We must ... balance the fact that innovation inside the network is just as important as innovation in services and devices connected to the Internet," wrote John Chambers, Cisco’s president and chief executive officer, in a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "Broadband Internet access service providers should remain free to engage in pro-competitive network management techniques to alleviate congestion, ameliorate capacity constraints, and enable new services."

In the CEA announcement Wednesday, broadband providers endorsed principles calling for reasonable licensing terms when devices connect to proprietary video networks, reasonable testing and certification procedures, and reasonable terms of service for customers.

Public Knowledge, a consumer group that has pushed for a net neutrality law, praised the device principles endorsed by CEA and the broadband providers. "We’re pleased that consumers will have the benefit of devices that will work well in the IP environment," said Public Knowledge spokesman Art Brodsky. "We look forward to consumers being able to use those devices on a free and open Internet."

-Grant Gross, IDG News Service

Keep checking in at our CIO News Alerts and TechInformer pages for updated coverage.

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