Bill Check is senior vice president, science and technology, for the National Cable Telecommunications Association.
What is the NCTA’s role within the industry’s engineering community?
NCTA serves as an advisor to the industry on legislative and regulatory issues that have technical components or implications. Within NCTA, the science and technology department supports NCTA’s legislative and regulatory advocacy efforts by analyzing and evaluating the technical issues being considered by public policymakers, and then we provide guidance to NCTA and our member companies on these issues. The department works closely with technologists at cable operators, cable programming companies, cable industry suppliers, CableLabs, SCTE and other relevant telecommunications-related companies and organizations.
Would you put the question of removable security on the “Top 10” list of issues that your office has had to contend with over the past five (or more) years?
Definitely, and we have been working hard to make our case that the so-called “integration ban” should be overturned. The integration ban is a backward-looking mandate that imposes unreasonable costs on consumers for no added benefit. Eliminating this unnecessary rule will protect consumers from unnecessary price increases on leased set-top boxes, remove an obstacle to the digital transition, and provide cable operators the time to implement a downloadable security alternative to the CableCard for both consumer electronics and cable equipment.
We have already begun talking about a “long hot summer” for operators when the July 2007 “integration ban” goes into effect. How hot has this issue become inside the Beltway?
Overturning the integration ban has become one of cable’s top public policy priorities this fall, which is why NCTA, Comcast, and other video providers—including Verizon—have asked the FCC for waivers of the integration ban. Though the waivers differ, all of the waiver requests, if granted, would give cable customers relief by exempting certain cable boxes from the integration ban.
Do you have any expectations on how this issue will play out next year?
We remain hopeful that the FCC will realize that eliminating the integration ban is in the best interest of cable customers and will promote a more efficient and effective downloadable security system. Until then, we will continue to make our case to the FCC that the ban should be overturned so cable operators have the opportunity to finalize the technology for downloadable security and widely deploy it to support both set-top boxes and other digital cable-ready (DCR) retail devices.
How would you characterize relations on an executive engineering level between the consumer electronics and cable industries?
Although there are differences between the industries, cable and CE continue to work together on various initiatives with an open dialog to explore how to best resolve differences and build upon the cable/CE relationship. The leaders in both industries realize that our products/services are necessary for each other, so we always look for consensus and common ground.
Which telephony-related issues concern you from an engineering and public policy perspective?
One specific issue that NCTA is focused on concerns codifying into federal law interconnection rights for cable VoIP providers. Studies show that digital telephone services provided by U.S. cable operators have the potential to save consumers $100 billion dollars over the next five years, but interconnection rights for facilities-based VoIP providers are not guaranteed. So as telecommunications reform legislation continues to be discussed in Washington, DC, NCTA will continue to urge Congress to include these interconnection rights for cable’s digital phone service.
Are there technical/regulatory areas where it is mutually beneficial for the cable industry to work with its telco competitors?
Even though cable and telephone companies are fierce competitors in the marketplace, we do have some common interests in the regulatory arena, and one recent example is the issue of network neutrality.
Are there other topics that your science and technology team is actively tracking and/or engaged in that you could mention?
The cable industry is actively supporting the FCC and other governmental entities in their efforts to develop the next generation of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and to further enhance the dissemination of public warnings to citizens during crisis situations. We believe that this can be accomplished by building on the existing EAS infrastructure. We support ongoing efforts to utilize advanced digital technology to provide hazard alerts over a variety of communications platforms and have encouraged the FCC and its partner agencies to establish a single fully integrated national warning system to replace the current system, which is often implemented in a disparate and discretionary manner by local municipalities.