commentary by Steve Effros Of Ducks And ‘IP’ TV (Part II) Last week we examined "IPTV." Technically, it’s simply a definition of a "protocol" for the way video is transmitted as data. Many people confuse it with "interactive" television, which is an entirely different thing. Yes, "IPTV" providers likely will offer "interactive" consumer services. That is true by definition, since computers or digital set-tops and headends ‘talk’ to each other, hence they are ‘interacting,’ but let’s not get tied up in that knot. The reason I’m so concerned about making sure we understand what "IPTV" is centers on the marketing (both to consumers and legislators/regulators) of some telephone companies. SBC, in particular, is trying to make it sound like "IPTV" is an entirely new animal in the video delivery zoo. SBC claims not to be a "cable system" at all, at least for the purposes of requiring local franchises. But why? If you look at its promotional material on "IPTV," SBC clearly intends to deliver, through a cable, video, including broadcast channels, to paying customers. It intends to provide what we have always called "cable" programming. It will offer "video on demand" and have a "program guide." Looks and sounds like a cable system to me. Yet there are plenty of local and state officials, as well as FCC folks and cable lawyers, who seem confused by why what SBC plans to deliver through newly installed fiber optic lines is not cable television service. Maybe it’s because SBC is using a fiber cable instead of a coax cable. But the cable industry has installed more than 1 million miles of fiber cable. Does that mean that if we simply replace the drop to the house (the principal remaining part of our coaxial plant) with a fiber drop we are suddenly not "cable operators" any more? That would take a lot of folks by surprise. Of course there is no reason from the consumer’s point of view for us to do that. Our coax drops in most cases have enough bandwidth to handle just about anything anyone can think of that would be used in the home. Fiber is just another type of cable. Let’s reiterate: "IPTV" is a description of a "protocol." It does not mean that the video delivery being offered is all streaming over the Internet. It’s not. The systems being touted, while they can also provide broadband Internet service, are not planned to simply offer access to Internet streaming video. The telephone companies proposing to offer "IPTV" are securing contracts with programmers. They intend to offer program guides of what they provide, and so on. In other words, they are going to offer cable service! One of the big glitches in the telcos’ lobbying plans is that if they are indeed not cable operators, offering cable service, then even under slightly different definitions in the Copyright Law, I don’t think they’d be eligible for a compulsory license. They would not be able to offer broadcast signals as part of their package. Of course their lawyers say that’s not so, they ARE "cable operators" for the purpose of copyright! That’s even though copyright precedents clearly say you must be offering service to a "community" and the telcos say they don’t do that, they provide service by "central office" area, that’s why local franchises are too much of a bother. Oh, I think I’ve got it now…. no I don’t. Still looks like a duck to me.

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Seth Arenstein reviews the week’s biggest premieres, including HBO Max’s “What Happened, Brittany Murphy?”

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