For the times, they are a-changin’

My respects to Bob Dylan for this month’s headline.

May 1st, 2005

My respects to Bob Dylan for this month’s headline.

In my June 2004 Ask Donna column, I wrote that “if the U.S. is going to get universal broadband, much less cheap broadband, anytime soon, it is going to take a lot of pennies from heaven, because I do not see that kind of money coming from the government or industry or the consumers.”

Pennies from heaven? No, but billions from some of the Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) is on the way.

SBC recently announced “Project Lightspeed,” a $ billion initiative to enable millions of residential customers across 13 states to access integrated digital TV, super-high-speed broadband access, and Voice over IP (Internet Protocol) services via a new fiber-rich network.

Also set for rollout later this year: SBC’s HomeZone service, which will integrate satellite TV programming with high-speed Internet access to provide digital video recording, music on demand, and Internet content-including photo and music-through a new set-top box.

And then there's the government...

According to a statement by U.S. Representative Joe Barton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, “Internet Protocol and broadband technology are revolutionizing video services.” (For a complete transcript of his statement, see: http://energycommerce.house.gov/108/News/04202005_1484.htm)

On April 20, as part of the ongoing public hearings about how to update the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Telecommunications heard testimony on how IP-enabled video services would “transform” the market. But not everyone is happy with the new IPTV initiatives, which is evident in the following excerpts of their testimony:

Robert Ingalls, retail markets president with Verizon Communications, argued in favor of a national broadband policy to “promote broadband deployment, new technologies, and increased investment.” Ingalls added, “As a local telephone company, Verizon has a franchise to operate networks. Yet we’re being asked to obtain a second franchise to use that same network to offer consumers a choice in video. We believe this redundant franchise process is unnecessary and will delay effective video competition for years unless a federal solution is enacted soon.”

Lee Ann Champion, senior executive vice president of IP operations and services for SBC, urged legislators and regulators to take a “light-touch” approach to regulating new IP-based services. Champion said, “The FCC and Congress have, so far, employed a light-touch approach to regulating the Internet and IP-based services. We need to extend this minimal regulation approach that has been applied to VoIP, only now the ‘V’ stands for video. Only then will consumers benefit from the innovation and choice that is just around the corner.”

David Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast, argued that, “What matters to consumers, and what should matter to this Congress, is not the technology used to provide the services, but the services themselves. If the consumer views the video service provided by a phone company to be essentially the same as what they got from a cable company, there is no basis for the law to treat them differently based on whether they use a lot of IP, a little IP, or no IP. Like services should be treated alike, and everyone should play by the same rules … If the rules are to be changed, they should be changed for all providers.”

Paul Mitchell, senior director and general manager of Microsoft’s TV division, maintained that, “Internet services, that is, those services and products that ride atop or connect to the underlying broadband transport services, should remain largely unregulated and not be subject to the Communications Act. The success of the Internet as a tool for consumers and business has been remarkable, and Congress should proceed carefully. Consumers should be able to access any site and use any lawful application or device with a broadband connection, just as they have been able to do in the narrowband world. If policy makers act, they should maintain a ‘light touch’ and act only with respect to those services that give rise to present-day policy questions.”

Gregory Schmidt, speaking on behalf of the National Association of Broadcasters, stated that, “If new technologies can override program-exclusivity rights of local [TV] stations by offering the same programs on stations imported from other markets, or effectively block their subscribers access to local signals, the viability of local TV stations and their ability to serve their communities with the highest-quality programming is put at risk. Policymakers must continue to support the principles of localism and local station program exclusivity.”

James M. Gleason, chairman of the American Cable Association, testified, “As you analyze what rules should be in place in an IP-based marketplace, I believe you must review whether the current analog rules are really providing consumers with the ‘best television money can buy.’ Now is the time to discard the rules that: 1) force consumers to take programming they do not want; 2) allow media consortiums to raise prices with no regard to what consumers value; 3) hide the reasons for higher rates from Congress, the FCC, the local franchising authorities, and consumers alike; and 4) fail to harness the greatest of American tools, a free market to spur diverse and new programming.”

A complete transcript of the hearing should be available within 60 to 90 days at: http://energycommerce.house.gov/108/Hearings/04202005hearing1483/hearing.htm.

"Always-on" equals opportunities

With all new opportunities there are new challenges. Those graduating from high school since about 1999 are part of the “always-on” generation. When they arrived at college, they expected to be available online on the Web all the time. They work that way and play that way; they are connected socially and professionally through technology. For them, cyberspace has always existed.

Universities were the first to struggle with how to accommodate this generation. Now they are graduating from college, joining the workforce, and soon will buy homes. But will those homes be ready for the “always-on” generation?

The networked home is no longer a concept for the future. It is here today and developing fast. Builders who recognize this fact and understand what it takes to deliver services to this generation will be the real winners.

Now back to Bob Dylan: “Your old road is rapidly agin’. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand, for the times they are a-changin’.”

DONNA BALLAST is BICSI’s standards representative, and a BICSI registered communications distribution designer (RCDD). Send your questions to Donna via e-mail: dballast@swbell.net

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