Technology Policy: Live from CES 2010

The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, that took place Jan. 7-10, let technology firms show off the latest gadgets and gizmos, while giving a sneak peak into futuristic devices. This year's show is featured more than 2,500 exhibitors and 120,000 attendees.

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Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer; Post Tech Blogger
Thursday, January 7, 2010; 11:00 AM

Tech policy writer Cecilia Kang, who authors the Post Tech blog, was online Thursday, Jan. 7 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the intersection of technology and Washington, live from the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. (Follow more CES coverage here.

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Washington, D.C.: Any reactions from the floor yet to the FCC's request to delay the submission of the National Broadband Plan?

Cecilia Kang: Check out voices.washingtonpost.com/posttech for story on FCC's plan to delay broadband plan.

So far very little reaction, but I also just arrived yesterday and haven't had a chance to fully hit the floor yet. But from trolling the party circuit last night, people were much more interested in the bigger uncertainties related to policy: 1) what will the net neutrality rule look like 2)will Justice and/or FTC take up TV Everywhere investigation urged by public interest and consumer groups 3)how could Comcast/NBC Universal merger change the media industry mix and what will regulators do, if at all, to play a hand.

The national broadband plan has to be turned in no matter what. One month late, doesn't make a huge difference to the companies I"\'ve talked to. The big difference and the real work comes after Congress gets the plan. Then what? USF reform at FCC? Spectrum reallocation? That's when fun begins.

Cecilia Kang: Welcome from sunny Las Vegas and thanks for joining. Post Tech will be focused on how tech policy intersects with CES. So fire away on questions.

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Washingto Perception in Vegas: How much of a hand does Washington have in the creation of the devices -- do their regulations impact how gadgets get made or do companies tend to adjust their gadgets to meet their regulations? Or is it a chicken and the egg thing? Are the Feds seen as bad guys at CES or a welcome addition?

Cecilia Kang: I'm going to answer your last question first. At a party I went to last night, the Obama girl was the featured guest and people - startups from L.A., New York, London and Silicon Valley - were floating around the name of Federal Communications Commission Chairman, Julius Genachowski in a positive way. They clearly know what is going on in Washington and are following debates over net neutrality, the regulatory review of the Comcast NBC Universal merger, and wireless competition reviews. And they see it all connected.

But if I were at a party, say for a large Internet service provider, the conversation may still be on Washington to some degree but the reaction to such tech policies could have been different. Many ISPs, for exmaple, don't want more rules.

As for how regulations could impact technology, one guy I met who runs a cloud-based iTunes-like applications store called Grooveshark said he had been having trouble getting his application on the iPhone. His product competes directly with Apple's iTunes store. But Colin Hostert, the CIO of Grooveshark, said that after the FCC sent a letter to Apple, AT&T and Google about why it was blocking Google Voice from the iPhone, relations between Apple and his company got much better. Coincidence? Maybe. But if anything, these smaller outfits are all watching to see what kinds of moves the FCC, DOJ, FTC and other agencies in Washington that they say could propell their businesses or kill them off.

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Toronto, Ontario: Do you see Washington taking a more active role in encouraging FTTH rollouts in the next few years as many other countries have done?

Cecilia Kang: Hi Toronto reader! I'm assuming FTTH is Fiber to the home?

If so, yes. The FCC is crafting a national broadband plan intended to provide a roadmap for Congress and regulators to bring broadband Internet service to every U.S. home. Part of that plan will be outlining to some degree which technologies make the most sense for that last mile connectin. The White House has weighed in with a letter earlier this week that wireless broadband could make the most sense in some areas that are hard to reach or where it is too expensive to deploy fiber, cable like Docsis3.0, or DSL. And there are lots of debates on what speeds should be set as standards for broadband. It's a tough policy question because laying fiber is expensive. But if you are thinking of this as a grand opportunity for the administration to address broadband deployment, why not go for fastest connections, like fiber?

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East Greenbush, NY: Will the FCC take a strong stance regarding true competitiveness in the cable box and DVR markets by discussing deadlines for the imposition of Tru2Way or similar technologies which will level the playing field?

Cecilia Kang: Great question. The FCC hasn't addressed this specifically but has taken a stance on set top box competition and how more of it could foster greater broadband adoption. We'll see more details on this and perhaps answers to your question in a final national broadband plan that has been delayed one month (www.voices.washingtonpost.com/posttech)

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Gaithersburg, Md.: I've heard that at the CES, in addition to announcing new products and lines of products, that product discontinuations are announced as well. How would I find out which products will no longer be produced (since I hear those ones are also likely to go on sale in the near future).

Cecilia Kang: Hi Gaithersburg. Good practical question and one I can't answer off top of my head. Rob Pegoraro would know answer to this. But I'd say companies are usually really bad about explaining product discontinuations -- sort of an afterthought and doesn't always reflect well on the firms. I"ll keep an eye open and post on the blog if I get an answer for you.

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West Virginia: Are you seeing much in devices by way of applying the femtocell technology?

Cecilia Kang: Wireless and home connectivity is a huge theme here. So there is a lot of interest in femtocell technology and how it can boost wireless broadband use in the home. To back up, Femtocell technology are basically devices that attach to broadband access points that boost wireless signals throughout the home. Readers, please slam me if I'm wrong here.

I will troll the floor this morning to see what's out there and if anything interesting, I'll be sure to post on the blog.

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Washington, D.C. What will you look for on floor to give you clues to how industry is moving and potential issues for regulators to explore.

Cecilia Kang: I'm very interesting in looking at the convergence of the Internet on the TV.

The movement of video online is at an inflection point. Cable, satellite and telecom providers that have provided paid television services through subscriptions models are now competing with Hulu, Youtube, Boxee, Roku and Netflix. Public interest groups have complained that a cable/satellite/teleco strategy called TV Everywhere, keeps a lot of the most coveted programming -- Mad Men, Entourage, original cable movies -- behind a paywall and hamper the ability for newcomers to compete. The programmers and cable satellite and teleco industry, meanwhile, say its expensive to produce good content (like $7 million for each Lost episode) and they question how in the world would they afford to get good content out there without strategies like TV Everywhere, that puts some shows online for subscribers of paid tv and broadband services. It's a really interesting debate and vexing for policy makers.

So I want to troll the floor and see what new technologies are out there that bring Internet television shows and movies to the TV, laptop and cell phone.

The FCC sees the TV as a gateway for broadband adoption and they think the cable set top box is standing in the way.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Any good dirt from that party circuit last night, either among Washington types or Tech execs?

Cecilia Kang: Well as much as people (particularly edge players) said they were excited about the Obama administration's push for net neutrality, they said they want to see some real action come about soon. They feel like the announcement of a plan came out with a big bang in September and it's been really quiet since.

The Obama Girl recycled her stardom from the election, apparently on the tech geek circuit as party prop. She was at the Boxee party and people were swooning to take pictures of her. That was sorta odd.

But I love me my tech policy gossip so will post on blog and Tweet if I find anything interesting!

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Washington, D.C.: Google is a technoadvertising company. Nexus One is perceived as a death threat by Apple(and perhaps rightly so as it enables all other phone manufacturers), but for Google it is just an orthogonal way to get more advertising. Same story for carriers who see Google as a competitor but Google does not really compete with them. So when these folks complain to Washington about Google's unfair competition, they do not go far as Google either gives its ware for free or subsidizes it. My question is whether Washington perceives Google for what it is - an advertising platform at the nexus of privacy, information, free stuff, etc and think about new, orthogonal ways to deal with this company that - for a lot of people - misrepresent itself as the retard sounding/genius villain from Usual Suspects.

Cecilia Kang: Ah, great question. I'm with you. From a pure revenue perspective with Google, it's all about search advertising and the Nexus One is their way to capture their great online advertising revenues from desktop access to mobile phones.

But there are many questions swirling around the company as it dives into so many new areas. How behaviorial advertising affects the consumer. How its foray into digital book scanning could cut out competititors like Amazon. How its blocking of some calls through Google Voice could violate communications rules.

In Washington, Google is a bit of an enigma and I'd say regulators and lawmakers could fall into both camps you just framed. The bigger questions lie in the fact that it's unclear how currrent rules for communications policy, antitrust and consumer protection in some ways don't address directly activity in the Internet space. In other words, regualtors to some extent don't know how to deal with Google.

Is Google's call blocking on Google Voice a plain old telephone call connection violation? Or is it a violation of net neutrality rules? Should the new net neutrality rules at the FCC apply to search engines, which are a gateway to the Web? So far the FCC says no, but it's an interesting question.

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Cecilia Kang: I'm off to the CES floor. Thanks for all your questions and sorry I didn't get to them all. Feel free to contact me directly with ideas on CES and anything else tech policy related, ping me at kangc@washpost.com. See ya!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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