News from CES Days 1 & 2

It’s been a busy two days here in Las Vegas. Between keynote speeches, panel discussions, walking the floor and social events, there is little time to blog or sleep. I’ll write separately about some of the cool technologies I’ve seen here, and the pictures will have to wait for me to return to DC (I forgot the cable which connects my camera to my computer). In this post I want to focus on three announcements that relate to PK’s work:

The Cable Industry Puts Lipstick on OCAP: At Monday’s keynote, Panasonic AVC Networks President Toshihiro Sakamoto was joined by Comcast CEO Brian Roberts to announce that the former has agreed to make devices that will use the two-way interactive cable standard known as OCAP, or Open Cable Platform. As we have discussed in the past, we are concerned that cable wants to implement OCAP in a way that gives them complete control over the user experience. Roberts then announced that OCAP would now be officially called “tru2way.” In Roberts’ keynote this morning, he (oddly joined by Sakamoto again) waxed poetic about how “the age of closed and proprietary set top boxes are behind” the cable industry and how Tru2way was evidence of this, because it is Java-based with open applications programming interfaces (APIs). But despite the nifty name change, there is no indication that the cable industry is about to give up its control over what software can be used to access the cable network or license the technology to CE manufacturers on less draconian terms than they have been proposing.

Comcast Announces 100 MBS Downstream by the End of 2008: A potentially positive development was Roberts’ announcement that by year’s end, Comcast will deploy their DOCSIS 3.0 platform, or as he called it “wideband,” which will offer speeds of up to 100 Mbs downstream. Although Roberts did not say what the upstream speeds would be, expert cable analyst Craig Moffet reports that upstream speeds will be up to 50 Mbs. Importantly, Roberts did not say how many or which customers would have access to such speeds, or at what price. He demonstrated the power of such speeds by downloading a high definition version of “Batman Begins” in less than four minutes. If Comcast does indeed accomplish this goal at a price point that promotes adoption, it could be a game changer – putting pressure on the telcos to match speeds and hopefully resolving some of the so-called “network management” problems related to less bandwidth. But like the wireless companies’ “openness” proposals, the devil is in the details.

Comcast/VZ Text Messaging Petitions on the Top of Chairman’s Agenda: Asked by CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro what was top on the FCC’s agenda for 2008, Chairman Kevin Martin first said (not surprisingly), the 700 MHz auction (now greatly diminished by the announcement that Frontline will not bid) and the digital TV transition, just 13 months away. But the only other priority item the Chairman listed was acting on what he called consumer complaints about “blocking.” Unless I’m missing something, that means the Public Knowledge/Free Press filings on Comcast’s interference with BitTorrent traffic and wireless carriers’ blocking of text messages.

Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing Digital Freedom Campaign party last night at the Palms Hotel. Great performances by DFC Supporting Musicians Jonathan Coulton and Samantha Murphy. Samantha will be interviewing me for her podcast tomorrow. The Campaign is really on a roll, gaining supporters among artists and the grassroots. The good folks at Qorvis Communications, who manage the campaign, are doing a fabulous job of delivering a positive message about digital technology and creative expression.

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