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Updated: @ CES: FCC’s Genachowski Not Ready To Say Broadcast-Only Viewers Are Irrelevant

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Julius Genachowski lives in the now and looks to the if/when. During a pointed Q&A with CEA head Gary Shapiro at CES, the still-new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission refused to give any ground to the idea that regulation is less needed or even irrelevant in a broadband world. “Today there are still millions of Americans who get their video over the air, that’s an important reality that has to be taken into account,” Genachowski said. Universal ubiquitous high speed access will change the dynamics — but not the goals. “We are looking at what we can do in that world to make sure we have vibrant competition.”

Another question, a perennial about the failure of the cable industry to sell cable cards at retail — 14 years of frustration, as CEA head Gary Shapiro calls it — brought a different answer than usual from Genachowski. No promises that it will be fixed any time soon but the chairman said the FCC now realizes the issue of connected TV is part of the challenge facing the broadband task force.

Update: Genachowski fleshed out his answer about connected TVs during a later press conference, particularly the idea that digital TVs can be used to bridge the broadband gap in homes that don’t have computers. Nearly all homes have TVs, while two-thirds have computers. Then there’s a separate goal of “spurring innovation.”

He flatly admits that the cable-card effort to meet the statute that was supposed to spur competition by opening access to provisioning cable access hasn’t worked. The goal of the statue and the goal of the FCC rules is to allow multiple parties to be able to design devices and applications that rely on the subscription screen that comes from cable companies. Especially now we see the potential for innovation in the area and the realty that innovation the televisions lag behind innovation around the computer and innovation around the mobile phone. … What can the FCC do to make sure that innovation is encouraged, that 3rd-party developers have the ability to build, design to the platform, that’s what we’re looking for.”

Genachowski avoided specifics when I asked how content would be handled. “This is a new area that, as in other areas, we have an obligation to understand. …. It’s a new market. We’re seeing the beginning of newly interesting innovation. We certainly have people coming to us at the FCC and saying there is some innovation that we’d really like to do here but we the goals of the Navigation Devices Act to be filled. That’s what we’re looking at.”

Comcast-NBCU: On another topic that could wind up being related, Genachowski said he couldn’t say what kind of conditions the FCC might impose on the Comcast-NBCU deal yet because the parties haven’t filed.