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CES Through the Eyes of a Tech Regulator

By Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 8, 2005; 11:43 AM

I'm Yuki Noguchi, here with Robert Pepper, the chief of policy development for the Federal Communications Commission. It's his job to monitor new technology trends and advise the FCC on the intersection of new technology and policy. He agreed to sit down with us and describe some of the cool products he's seen at CES because, to be honest, it's not really possible for one person to cover more than 10 percent of the entire floor in any given day. You can also tune into an audio-blog posting where he shared more insights from the show.

Yuki: Let's go by category here, just to manage an otherwise massive selection of things to talk about. What's different about this year's HDTVs that are so the rage here?

Robert: It's not so much what's different this year, it's that there are more of them, from small flat panel LCDs to fabulous 70-inch plasma displays ... and the prices are coming down so everyone can find an affordable model.

Yuki: What's the most exciting thing you've seen here? When will it be available, and how much would you be willing to pay for it?

Robert: New improved wireless technologies that will connect everything in the home ... even through walls and floors ... so you can connect all of your TVs, computers, digital recorders and even your digital camera. Different companies are using different technology approaches and some are here today at prices not too different from what today's WiFi costs.

Yuki: OK, name the most bizarre thing you won't be buying, assuming it ever makes it to market?

Robert: The thumping Humvee with the 22-inch subwoofer.

Yuki: What, is the size or the volume that bothers you?

Robert: The THUMP.

Yuki: Much has been made of the way devices are now interconnecting with each other over all kinds of networks, including cellular, WiFi, Bluetooth, ultrawideband ... does that pose any regulatory challenge for you and the FCC?

Robert: The challenges may be more technical than regulatory -- making sure that interference doesn't make all these devices useless. We have rules about interference, but the industries have to implement them and make sure that all of their devices work together and don't interfere to the point that they don't work. They obviously have strong incentives to make sure that happens.

Yuki: Other observations about how these changes -- the interconnectivity of all things -- are changing industry?

Robert: The next VoIP [the first VoIP is Voice over Internet Protocol] ... video-over-IP or IPTV. A number of companies are developing different flavors of IPTV ... from SBC working with Microsoft to compete with cable TV companies to little start-ups that have devices you plug your cable into and then you can watch your local TV stations anywhere in the world over the Internet.

Yuki: Do you really think those things will happen, and when?

Robert: They are coming out of the labs and are beginning to be deployed now. This is something to watch over the next 12 months or so to see how real they are or whether they're not ready for primetime.

[Click here to listen to Noguchi and Pepper discuss WiFi and the hassles of getting around the world's biggest tech expo.]

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