Congress Has No Idea How The FCC's Cable Box Reform Plan Works, Conyers, Goodlatte Compare Effort To 'Popcorn Time'

from the not-very-good-at-my-job dept

As we’ve been discussing, the FCC is cooking up a plan to bring much-needed competition to the cable set top box market. As a fact sheet being circulated by the agency (pdf) notes, the FCC hopes to force cable operators to offer their existing cable lineups to third party hardware — without the need of a pesky CableCARD. This would obviously disrupt the $21 billion in annual, captive set top rental fees enjoyed by the industry, and the competitive set top box market that emerges would likely drive more users than ever to alternative streaming options.

As such, the cable industry has been having a monumental hissy fit. This has ranged from threatening lawsuits to publishing an absolute ocean of misleading editorials in news outets nationwide, claiming the FCC’s plan would destroy consumer privacy, increase piracy, hurt programming diversity, and make little children cry.

Not too surprisingly, the cable and entertainment industry has now gotten some members of Congress to contribute to the hysteria. Note that the FCC’s proposal makes it abundantly clear that under the proposal, a cable provider can “determine the content protection systems it deems sufficient to prevent theft and misuse, and will not impede the introduction of new content protection systems.” Yet in a letter sent to the FCC this week, Representatives Bob Goodlatte and John Conyers say creators have “shared concerns” that the FCC’s plan will lead us down the road to rampant piracy. You know, like Popcorn Time:

“As Members of the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees our nation’s copyright laws, we recognize the harm the American economy caused by the theft of copyrighted works. Creators have shared concerns that under the FCC’s proposed rule, future set-top boxes or their replacements could purposely be designed to distribute pirated content obtained from sources that primarily offer stolen content. For example. apps such as Popcorn Time that focus on providing access to piratical content have tried to match the form and ease of use of legitimate apps to mark the theft of copyrighted content. Creators are legitimately worried about the prospect that future set top boxes, or their functional equivalents, could incorporate apps such as Popcorn Time or its functionality, or otherwise lead to the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted works.”

From the letter it’s pretty clear the Representatives — and the “creators” expressing their worry — don’t actually understand what the FCC is trying to do. Conyers and Goodlatte throw Popcorn Time into the mix seemingly at random, given the FCC’s proposal has absolutely nothing to do with the app.

For better or worse, under the FCC’s proposal nothing about copy protection will actually change. Users will still pay the cable industry for service, those users will just be able to access that same programming on hardware from the likes of TiVO, Google, Amazon, whose hardware will already be in most consumer homes. And while these devices are more open than cable boxes, it’s bizarre to suggest this shift results in some kind of piracy free for all. In fact, having more open set top boxes not ensconced by the cable industry’s walled garden approach will present consumers with access to more legitimate streaming content sources than ever before. That’s what the cable industry is actually worried about.

The piracy bogeyman was also recently trotted out in an editorial by “The Walking Dead” Producer Gale Anne Hurd, who tried to argue that making the set top box market more open and competitive would only drive users to pirated content because hey — a more open device might actually include a browser and access to the actual Internet. That’s again missing the forest for the trees on an absolutely mammoth scale, ignoring that open platforms and an exponential explosion in access to streaming services means more ways to access her content legitimately than ever before.

Again, it’s not clear if the people yelling about piracy just don’t understand how this all works and are just being “informed” by the wrong people, or if they’re intentionally aiding the cable industry and mis-characterizing what the FCC is planning (probably a combination of both). But make no mistake: the TV industry’s opposition to set top box reform has nothing to do with being worried about piracy, diversity, security, or the welfare of puppies — and everything to do with protecting a stagnant industry from market evolution and lost revenue.

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Comments on “Congress Has No Idea How The FCC's Cable Box Reform Plan Works, Conyers, Goodlatte Compare Effort To 'Popcorn Time'”

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DannyB (profile) says:

It's not Congress' job to understand things

Congress does not need to understand reality or how things work.

Understanding how things work is someone else’s job.

Congress job is to accept lobbyist’s money, let them write new laws, and then to pass those laws without bothering to read them first, and possibly not even to bother attending a session of congress to do the actual act of voting in person.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Compete

Do you realize what kind of crazy talk that is? The very idea of it. Hollywood providing what people want for a price they are willing to pay?

That would be like suggesting that Netflix, or Amazon or Hulu or HBO be offered at a price, which allows making a profit while selling at a price people are willing to pay.

Even crazier would be the insane notion that Hollywood would make their product appealing. Like ditching the unskippable commercials for movies that were released 10 years ago. The insane and untrue FIB warnings.

Such a thing would prevent Popcorn Time from ever appearing in the first place.

But back to the topic, imagine if you could get set top boxes to have real competition. Light a fire of innovation under set top boxes. Easier to use. Easier to set up. Cheap enough to own.

But Hollywood can’t let go of controlling everything, even if would mean opening the floodgates of legal, paid online streaming.

PaulT (profile) says:

They are correct, in the sense that it’s an innovation that is being blocked because some people are trying to protect their old way of doing things even as it crumbles beneath them.

In every other sense it’s an idiotic comparison, of course, but again that’s typical. As we always see, if one side screams “piracy” loudly enough, politicians are happy to remove the rights and benefits of everyone else to protect them. The screams don’t have to be logical or even based in reality, they just have to be louder and backed with more lobbying.

Anonymous Coward says:

Comparing this to Popcorntime and using piracy as the main example of why that program was so popular is completely missing the point. People didn’t care if the content was pirated or legit, but rather that it presented wider availability of popular titles in an easy to digest format and didn’t make people jump through infinite hoops to watch something.

That’s something that should be strived for, not shunned.
If that’s the sort of thing opening up set top boxes will bring it should be supported and embraced, because it will make piracy go down.

But this isn’t really about piracy… Anyone who isn’t paid to think otherwise can see that.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“People didn’t care if the content was pirated or legit”

Never have, never will. If the option to pay is there, most (but obviously not all) will take the opportunity if it’s there at a reasonable amount of time and effort. If not, and there’s a less than legal option available? Why not?

Always been the way, from pirate radio stations and VHS tapes to the guy who comes into work with a hard drive full of dodgy content. It’s usually about accessibility, not just price. Lots of people don’t care whether the film’s pirated if they’re being told it’ll take 6 months to get to be allowed to pay too much for it.

morganwick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It would do so, however, by taking a big step down the road to decentralizing linear television, potentially giving the content providers primacy instead of the cable company, even as the cable company remains who you pay for service: That would start people thinking about why TV isn’t a la carte, and potentially lead to more companies thinking about going over-the-top and breaking up the cable bundle. Of course, the FCC’s proposal may preclude exactly the sort of “innovative interfaces” that would lead to this, since it requires preserving the outdated notion of a “channel lineup”, but it’s not quite clear.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m interested in 1 channel mostly Fox Sports that shows my baseball games. It’s locked up to either the cable or satellite providers. There’s no legal way for me to watch that one channel unless I purchase an overpriced, bloated tv package from them. I’d gladly pay $5-10 a month just for access to that one channel so I could stream the games. Since I can’t I stream it from those bad sites.

Glorious leader says:

Live from inside the brain of a vulture...

On the behalf of those who are your betters, namely your leaders and those why who have some extra millions to contribute, I would like to make an address to some of your insane accusations.

1.) Innovation: Billions are spent on innovation. Every day our researchers come up with new ways to pull your money out of your pockets and into our fat bank accounts. Oh yes we have more money than anyone could ever spend, but we just like all those zeroes. And since you are so much for innovation and that it should be rewarded, we only get what we deserve.

2.) Prosperity: We are so filthy rich now that we have a lot of the richest people in the world. You should be thankful since we pull the average up by a great deal in America. We pull the load from all you lazy peasants and all you can do is to make it harder for us? Where is the justice in that?

3.) Content: You will watch what we tell you to watch (or we will sue your ass). Besides there are so much content that you couldn’t possibly consume it all in a lifetime.
So what if it is not the content you want… Watch it anyway, we are just broadening your horizon and again we only get complaints…. it is just unfair. Besides that, you really should be working to earn us money instead of sitting on your ass watching movies… while still paying for it of course.

4.) DRM: Our side business needs to make money as well.

5.) Copyright: We deserve to get money from another mans work for 120 years. I don’t see why not and besides you are just filthy pirates so what do we care.

With these sane and reasonable explanations, I think this discussion has now come to an end. Please refrain from ever expressing yourself negatively against our industry again (or we will sue your ass).

Mr. F. Cat
Glorious leader

WhatsInaNameAnyway says:

It's an admission that device fees are bread and butter

I get it…

TV connects to cable/satellite box can view from their distribution platform. = monthly fee for box.

SmartTV has a cablecard, can view without the cable box from their distribution platform = monthly fee for cablecard

Non Smart TV without a cablecard has an HDMI stick can view content but not from their distribution platform = No monthly fee, because they won’t let it touch their distribution platform.

Anonymous Coward says:

The gist I get from the overall proposal

is that they view the cable box as a multi-vpn gateway. To accomplish this they are making a call out to the various players and plan a grand chorus of Kum-by-ya.

Terminating multiple commercial virtual networks at the CPE isn’t fundamentally that big of a deal. Trying to do it while the Cable Cabal is still in both carrier and content markets is a recipe for disaster. I’m not saying it isn’t technically a good idea, or that the intention is wrong. I understand the desire to spec out a pipe that everybody agrees on. There are already systems that do this. It is a good thing.

But you have to consider that the Cable networks are designed to conflict with open architectures. This was done intentionally to prevent any kind of evolution into a non-monopoly market. What the FCC is asking for will break networks. The Cable Cabal planned ahead to make sure that it would.

So there will be NO open standard coming out of this. It will be a giraffe. (horse designed by committee)It will add more unnecessary entropy, resulting in more security and privacy problems for no significant market growth. (Read as: it will piss off the public more, not satiate them)

If you want open standards based CPE, you have to remove the motivation behind proprietary CPE. And the way you do that is by separating the content from the carriers, in the same basic fashion that Glass Steagall separated banks from insurance. The cable companies have to want more traffic IN GENERAL, not just more traffic that ONLY they profit from.

You cannot fix this without breaking them up. Content or Carrier. Pick ONE.

Whatever (profile) says:

It would be a great story if your context wasn’t so wrong. Streaming boxes and streaming are pretty key in the game here.

While you or I might be tech savvy enough to know the difference between legal and illegal streaming, many consumers are not. So often enough streaming boxes are sold with apps on them that permit and even encourage pirated feeds and pirated content. Moreover, retailers (especially when you get to a more “mom and pop” level) use the free access to this content as the selling point. In Asia, these boxes are very popular, and almost always sold on the pretense of lots of free movies and sports.

Consumers offered the choice between “pay for your content” and “get the same content FREE!” will choose the free option without knowing why it’s free.

Now, the second part of your assertions that is wrong is this:

“. In fact, having more open set top boxes not ensconced by the cable industry’s walled garden approach will present consumers with access to more legitimate streaming content sources than ever before. That’s what the cable industry is actually worried about. “

Legitimate streaming source (ie, paid membership / pay per view) is not a negative for them. When you consider that many of the big cable / sat players are also the content producers and profit from these arrangements, the negative factor isn’t there as you suggest. Legal streaming as a source doesn’t worry anyone, it’s in fact a good mix of the business model that allows people to act like they cut the cord, pay more for higher speed internet access. and then pay monthly fees to access the content anyway.

The real issue is putting questionable or even totally illegal sources on an equal footing and equal appearance to the legal offering.

Imagine (for smokers) if your local store had two displays, one with the brand you smoke for sale with taxes paid and all the rest, and next to it a similar untaxed version (perhaps made with floor sweepings instead) for half the price. Unless explained, the consummer is likely to choose the cheaper option, unless they are clearly aware. Equal footing means equal product as far as the consumer can tell.

The proof? 12 million plus people have signed up for Hulu. The “cut the cord” by paying the man more directly. The owners overall aren’t displeased.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: illegal sources on an equal footing and equal appearance to the legal offering

At what point did the carrier gain the authority or capability to distinguish for the consumer what is or isn’t illegal content?

Regardless of how you implement any such policy, to do so would mean that the carrier would have to evaluate (surveille) ALL content going to the CPE. Otherwise how would they tell whether it was illegal or not?

Copyright does not trump the 4th amendment. Endowing the carrier with any such regulatory authority either actively, or through neglect is/has granted them agency of state.

While some companies have implemented minimalist approaches to DMCA, others have regarded all speech on their wires as their own property rather than the property of the original composer.

The only difference between line rate sampling of HTTP for marketing profiles, and copying the actual web pages themselves and having a human being create the profile is the amount of RAM and labor required.

Technically each transmission from router to router is a copy/delete cycle. So sampling at line rate, IS making a copy. The whole network is one big copy machine. The fact that it is a copy/delete cycle is ignored by everyone but the IOS developers because it is logically irrelevant when acting solely as a carrier. But they aren’t acting SOLELY as carriers anymore!

So apparently it is the time to put away the assumption that a datagram is a transmission rather than a copy. YES, the act of switching datagrams IS copying. Which means that ALL carriers are creating unlicensed copies of copyrighted content owned by companies they do not know, and have no business with, and are doing it for profit. That is by definition infringement. And yes, technically, it makes all backbone Internet networks criminal enterprises.

From there, the only question is: “What terms the content owner authorizes the carrier to copy that data?”

This question was ignored legally in the original protocol designs out of practicality and consideration for transmission overhead. Now it is ignored to facilitate the commission of corporate crimes, en-mass, for profit.

This is a failure of both the IETF and the various lawmaking bodies. It has been 20 years. There has still been no integration of transmission protocol and the UCC. The Cable Cabal has taken advantage of that, and assumed a position of tyranny atop the good graces of millions of collaborating productive people. It is getting progressively more intrusive, and people are getting pissed off.

So the Cable Cabal commits copyright infringement billions of times a day, and we are supposed to give a shit about THEIR copy protection schemes?

Maybe fix THAT first?

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