The technical papers prepared for "Highly Individual: Content Protection and Delivery in the Digital Era" session from last week’s Cable Show took four disparate paths, at least one more off track than the others.

In their paper "The Challenges of Stopping Illegal Peer-To-Peer File Sharing," Kevin Bauer et al. of the University of Colorado keep alive the myth that peer-to-peer (P2P) and illegal file sharing have some special relationship.

While P2P networks could certainly be illegally used, so too are phones used for crimes. Maligning P2P not only makes for bad publicity for operators, but also distracts from the value of P2P technology in providing innovative services. Consumer electronics (CE) manufacturers see it that way: P2P technology is becoming embedded in operating systems from computers to cell phones.

Illegal file sharing is an important and serious matter for content owners and broadcasters alike, but the policing of illegal activity is no more the responsibility of cable operators than the policing of illegal photocopying is for Kinkos. Cable operators can and will give their customers the tools needed to prevent their own computers from inadvertently being used to share files that they neither want to send or receive. In fact, the vast majority of cable subscribers running P2P networks are not aware of how their computers are being used.

Given the knowledge, opportunity and tools, most subscribers would block the use of their computers by others. With the more recent emergence of professional P2P applications built for business, we already find many subscribers moving to the P2P platforms such as Pando, which cable is working with for the benefit of its customers.

Telepresence, subscriber content, watermarks

Cisco Systems is promoting its "TelePresence over DOCSIS" (TPoD) system as a potential service offering for business services customers. The good news is that telepresence will work over DOCSIS. The bad news is that at 1 Mbps to 4 Mbps (depending on the video quality) in each direction, operators who succeed in selling it could quickly burn through bandwidth.

As Cisco authors John Chapman and Harsh Parandekar and Cox Communications co-author Jeff Finklestein suggest, it might be best managed as a gated application (for PacketCable Multimedia). Imagine what would happen if a flat-rate customer left it running and walked out of the room? Of course, telepresence is not DOCSIS-specific and will work over any access platform (above 1 Mbps symmetric) from telcos or cable operators.

In their paper, Andrew Poole and Joe Matarese of ARRIS propose the idea of publishing subscriber-generated video on existing cable VOD systems. It’s certainly one proposal. The other possibility is that cable VOD systems will look more like YouTube, Hulu, etc. It’s already the case that set-top box hardware is available to support YouTube. With the cost of VOD storage being a significant factor, it’s hard to see the value of adding capital costs to the cable network when a simple Java client on set-tops would just as easily provide the same service.

Niels Thorwirth of Verimatrix, and up-and-coming video system vendor, authored a paper on digital watermarking. Efforts underway in IEEE and MPEG are sure to come to both broadcast and IP distribution systems in the future. These technologies will make it easier for copyright owners and law enforcement to do their jobs, easing the burden on operators. Ideally, these technologies will so adversely affect illegal copies of video content as to make them un-useable, like photocopying a dollar bill.

– Victor Blake

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