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Net Neutrality Good For CE Innovation

President Obama’s net neutrality directive to the Federal Communications Commission this week should come as good news to retailers, CE manufacturers and smart TV enthusiasts looking for a little relief from the squeeze of multichannel programming subscription service increases.

 The President’s call for the strictest regulation of consumer broadband Internet is being hotly debated within the programming community, as it would take significant leverage away from the cable, telco and, to a lesser degree, satellite programming providers that might be tempted to control competition from over-the-top streaming service providers. The proposal expressed would eliminate the practice of imposing special fees or deals between broadband providers and OTT services looking for unfettered access to broadband customers at the expense of other services.

 Frankly, the notion of a multichannel programming provider also offering broadband service has posed a huge potential conflict of interest since the moment the first streaming entertainment services arrived. And while broadband service providers have talked a good game, the creation of recent fees that OTT providers like Netflix have been forced to pay for free and open access without speed limitations seemed to be just a first step toward more draconian controls in an unregulated environment.

 Coming as it did, just a few days after voters apparently expressed their dissatisfaction with the direction of Obama’s other policies, the FCC directive seemed to signal a message that the President intends to leave office just as he entered it – by assuring the least advantaged consumers are not forgotten, particularly in regard to their rights to low-cost TV service.

 The rules could also yield dividends for millions of other Americans looking for broader programming options and service innovations. After all, it’s hard to launch new systems and formats like, oh say, Ultra HDTV, without a ready supply of content and the bandwidth to deliver it.

 That should be a lesson ingrained in the hearts of every CE retailer and manufacturer by now.

 Remember that even before President Obama entered the White House he issued a similarly strong directive that consumers receiving analog TV signals over the air not be left stranded as the digital TV transition was completed. The President asked for and received more time in making that transition happen. The end result was a remarkable success for almost everyone.

Interesting parallels can be drawn today with jobless or restricted-income Americans looking to downsize their lifestyles to match their resources.

Whether or not the FCC will listen by the deadline next week to publish revised rules for consumer broadband internet remains to be seen. Any new rules need to be published by November 19 in order for the FCC to vote on them at an upcoming December meeting.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a former telecommunications industry lobbyist and Obama appointee, has already expressed some apprehension, and has suggested a “hybrid solution” that would continue to allow Internet fast lanes.

The president has publicly warned Wheeler and others that he does not want to see multiple tiers of Internet service offered. It appears the President wants the Internet handled like a public utility with the same level off access to all. That’s a reasonable solution, in this reporter’s opinion.

In the consumer electronics industry one rule has remained paramount – content is king. The president’s arguments for changing the Title II rules will ensure that consumers and suppliers alike have access to the widest selection of content the internet can deliver, and streaming services, both new and established, will have a level playing field in bringing that content to your customers.