Broadband providers say devices OK to attach

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and a group of broadbandproviders on Wednesday announced a set of principles that wouldallow consumers to attach devices to broadband video networks.

The series of principles, designed to ensure the commercialavailability of devices that attach to Internet Protocol-enabledvideo networks, was endorsed by large broadband providers AT&TInc., Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. They call foropen standards for consumer electronic devices such as set-topboxes and digital recorders, and the broadband providers said theywill strive for “enough nationwide commonality” in their videonetworks to allow nationwide compatibility.

The telecom providers are rolling out IP video networks to competewith cable television. These new networks will “provide consumersacross the nation with a revolutionary new way to access theirfavorite video programs when and where they want,” Gary Shapiro,CEA president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Inorder to realize the full potential of this brave new world,consumers must be able to choose from the exciting array ofinnovative new devices being developed by consumer electronicsmanufacturers.”

The ability to attach devices to broadband networks is part of acontroversial concept called net neutrality, currently beingdebated in the U.S. Congress. Backers of net neutrality wantCongress to pass a law prohibiting the owners of broadband networksfrom slowing or blocking Web sites or applications offered bycompeting companies and from blocking devices sold by competingcompanies. With a small group of large providers currentlycontrolling most broadband connections in the U.S., a netneutrality law is needed to keep them from providing preferentialtreatment to their own products and services, say net neutralitybackers, including Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

Broadband providers, including AT&T, BellSouth and ComcastCorp., have opposed a net neutrality law, saying large providershave no plans to block content or devices. A net neutrality lawcould limit broadband providers’ ability to manage their networks,they say. In addition BellSouth and other providers have talked ofcharging Web sites extra for faster connections than nonpayingcustomers have.

This week, network equipment provider Cisco Systems Inc. joinedbroadband providers in opposing a net neutrality law., saying theU.S. government should only intervene after problems occur. “Wemust … balance the fact that innovation inside the network isjust as important as innovation in services and devices connectedto the Internet,” wrote John Chambers, Cisco’s president and chiefexecutive officer, in a letter to the House Energy and CommerceCommittee. “Broadband Internet access service providers shouldremain free to engage in pro-competitive network managementtechniques to alleviate congestion, ameliorate capacityconstraints, and enable new services.”

In the CEA announcement Wednesday, broadband providers endorsedprincipals calling for reasonable licensing terms when devicesconnect to proprietary video networks, reasonable testing andcertification procedures, and reasonable terms of service forcustomers.

Public Knowledge, a consumer group that has pushed for a netneutrality law, praised the device principles endorsed by CEA andthe broadband providers. “We’re pleased that consumers will havethe benefit of devices that will work well in the IP environment,”said Public Knowledge spokesman Art Brodsky. “We look forward toconsumers being able to use those devices on a free and openInternet.”

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