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Why the Consumer Electronics Show Will Never be Overrated

January 18, 2013 , ,

Last
week (January 7-11), Las Vegas hosted the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, the
annual trade show where tech companies present their latest gadgets and
gizmos.  Speculation about which company
will have the largest, sharpest, thinnest, displays or the latest bells and
whistles for their mobile handsets dominates the tech world for weeks leading
up to CES, and the show officially begins the conversation for consumer tech
for the year.  Walking the convention
center floor and playing with the newest in consumer tech is a tech
fanboy/fangirl’s dream come true.  Public
Knowledge sent a delegation to the show this year and was encouraged by the
energy of the attendants not only with regard to tech devices but especially
toward tech policy.

There
were a few things that stood out at this year’s CES.  First, let’s take a look at it’s
relevance.  For the umpteenth time, tech
bloggers buzzed over whether or not the show is as important now as it was in
years past and whether or not there is a need for a show that focuses on large
tech when the trend now is toward apps over devices.  Frankly, these arguments don’t hold water.  While certain major players (Apple,
Microsoft) may choose to remove themselves from participating in the show, and
some years the advances in tech are less discernable than others, the Consumer
Electronics Show remains, a large, thriving, and necessary event for several
reasons.

This show
was a good one for 3D printing.  The
technology is coming of age and stepping into its own.  Vendors from MakerBot
and 3D
Systems
had smaller booths than say Samsung and Sony but the 3D printing
booths were always packed.  This
technology also attracted the attention of policymakers.  FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted
about it and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte expressed
interest as well.  Interest in this
technology will only grow over the near future and it wouldn’t be surprising to
see 3D printing take a larger stage at next year’s CES.

If
consumers want to utilize their technology to its fullest, unleashed,
potential, then it is essential that tech advocates foster and develop good
working relationships with policy makers and their staff.  Take a look at the Smart TV field.  Everyone has a smart, Internect-connected TV
but these displays will never be truly smart without an AllVid
solution.  Anything short of this fix is simply a
larger, fancier, all-in-one computer monitor. 
The Smart TV technology is ready for primetime but the policies that should
govern this technology are far behind the times.  If consumers will ever truly have a Smart TV,
it will be because lawmakers and regulators finally make policy more innovative
and less restrictive.

Tech
policy is becoming more important to CES attendees.  Today is the one-year anniversary of Internet
Freedom Day, the day when Internet users rose up, contacted their Members of
Congress, and told them to defeat SOPA/PIPA. 
CES 2012 was Ground Zero for the final SOPA/PIPA opposition.  Tech enthusiasts were alarmed at how the
poorly crafted, nontransparent legislation drafted by the content industry
would restrict their abilities to fully utilize the Internet and their
technologies.  Last year, CES drew over
150,000 attendees.  It was the largest
trade show in the world based on attendance, and the threat of SOPA/PIPA was on
everyone’s minds.  Internet advocates and
activists had worked for months communicating via e-mails and conference calls to
ensure the bill’s defeat.  At CES 2012,
these advocates and activists coalesced in person.  This year the talk was, among other things,
making sure that a next generation SOPA/PIPA does not gain any traction or pass
in the 113th Congress.  No one
ever disagrees with Gigi when she suggests
that Congress will try to introduce a SOPA/PIPA albeit in a slightly different
form
.  When it happens, we will be
prepared.

SOPA/PIPA
highlighted the incredible disconnect between most Members of Congress and the
technology for which they are trying to legislate.  Thankfully, more Members of Congress are
beginning to realize this disconnect and are working to become more informed on
the tech issues that are most important to new small businesses and innovators,
as well as to the public.  Several
Members and their staff flew out to Las Vegas for the show this year not just
to see the latest in technology but to learn more about the tech community’s
priorities so that they can create better policy that fosters American
innovation instead of stifling it. 
Panels on SOPA/PIPA, patents, the future of video, and the FCC were
packed, often standing room only.  PK attended
a speech
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) delivered
where he called for a broad technology
agenda to encourage what he calls the “freedom to compete.”  This direct interaction between policymakers
and technology advocates, on the tech community’s home turf, is crucial.  The CES environment nurtures these developing
relationships and will continue to play an important role for them in the
future.

CES
2013 also displayed the dominance that the content industry wields over
consumer tech.  The tech review website
CNET (which is now owned by CBS) originally intended to present Dish
Network’s Hopper
set-top box with its “Best of CES” award. CBS took issue
with this award since they have been battling Dish in court over the Hopper’s
ability to skip commercials (on previously-recorded content) and forced CNET to
withdraw their award.  However, the
Hopper wasn’t just selected as a “Best of CES” candidate but instead was the
winner of CNET’s “Best of Show” award, as voted by CNET’s editorial staff.  CBS forced CNET to withdraw the Hopper from
consideration from the awards due to their lawsuit with Dish and forced the
CNET staff to re-vote and select a new winner. 
As Josh
Topolsky writes over at The Verge
,
“the news raises questions not only about CNET’s
editorial independence… It suggests a growing influence of CBS’ corporate
interests in editorial decisions at its digital news subsidiaries.”