CES 2021 Goes Virtual in Pandemic Era

The annual CES kicks off today (Jan. 11) online instead of in Las Vegas due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Gone are the 170,000 attendees who interacted in person with more than 4,500 exhibitors at the consumer electronics showcase in 2020.

This year, the virtual CES will feature about 2,000 vendors, including those targeting home entertainment with the newest high-definition televisions (QLED, MicroLED, 4K and 8K) to consumers largely homebound for their video entertainment.

To accommodate online attendees, CES is affording registered viewers the ability to remotely access vendors via “digital activations” that enable them to interact with company reps and related show materials. CES will again showcase keynote speakers and roundtable discussions — all online.

CTA CEO Gary Shapiro

“CES 2021 will be making history, with our first all-digital show,” Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association said in a statement. “This new experience will feature exhibitors from around the world, showcasing the latest trends and innovation in artificial intelligence, 5G, digital health, smart cities, vehicle tech and beyond. Technology will move us forward and CES 2021 will illustrate how innovation paves the way for a brighter tomorrow.”

Shapiro said COVID-19 has underscored the need for consumer electronics and innovation without increased government regulation.

“We’re able to work and learn remotely thanks to high-speed internet, video conferencing tools and affordable laptops,” Shapiro wrote. “The pandemic has sped our embrace of technology — for work, school, health, entertainment, connecting with loved ones — and spurred innovation around the globe.”

CTA estimates that 40% of U.S. workers are doing so from home, while 90% of school children are being educated outside the classroom during the pandemic.

Shapiro said consumer technology enhancing work and entertainment in the home will “help us be human again with other humans as they ensure crowd-friendly spaces and entertainment zones.” He lauded major content players such as WarnerMedia for taking the landmark step streaming movies into homes at the same time they arrive in theaters.

At the same time Shapiro is calling on the new 117th U.S. Congress to take a “fresh look” at immigration reform, with an emphasis on high-skilled immigration policy. He said 80% of immigrants are likely to start a business in the U.S.

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“The incoming Biden administration can also help our competitiveness by stabilizing trade relationships and promoting our crown jewel companies and world-leading startup ecosystem,” Shapiro wrote. “This includes a fact-based look at Section 230, the cornerstone of free speech online, and ensuring it continues to provide protections to companies both large and small.”

Section 230 is legislation passed into law as part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. In the current political climate, Section 230 provides immunity to social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter against being sued regarding content on their site. The companies say they can better self-moderate content and government regulators.

Some lawmakers, including President Trump, say Section 230 enables tech companies and social media platforms to censor political content.

Shapiro said the Biden Administration should help to promote clarity and provide “rational and clear guardrails” within which companies can operate, while at the same time enabling U.S. companies to be more competitive globally.

“American tech companies are the envy of the world,” Shapiro wrote. “China is spending billions to catch and surpass our nation’s most innovative companies. Europe targets our tech companies with protectionist rules. If we implement rules restricting flexibility or creating new barriers to entrepreneurship and innovation, we will bolster the efforts of competitor nations.”

 

FCC’s Pai Says Streaming Video Competition Negates Need for Pay-TV Rate Regulation

Ongoing proliferation of over-the-top video services has created an effective argument against continuing basic rate regulation on pay-TV operators,  says FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

In an Oct. 3 in blog post, Pai said increased availability of subscription streaming video services has established credible competition to pay-TV; and thereby negates the need to further regulate basic cable rates.

The Commission on Oct. 25 is set to address a request by Charter Communications seeking to recognize that AT&T’s bundled streaming video packages offered in Hawaii and Massachusetts are comparable to its cable TV packages.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

The 1992 Cable Act mandated basic rates in areas lacking effective competition in the video marketplace. Due to the evolving video landscape, rate regulation is now limited to certain parts of Hawaii and Massachusetts.

Pai would like to end that.

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“Charter is now subject to effective competition from AT&T’s streaming service,” he wrote. “Adopting this order would be a major step toward the Commission recognizing the realities of the modern video marketplace, and the increasingly important role that streaming services are playing in it.”

The move, which has been applauded by business groups, could redefine the way the government recognizes, taxes and regulates OTT video.

Federal attempts in 2015 to regulate streaming video were challenged by lawmakers eager to promote OTT investment and infrastructure in their districts.I

Indeed, Pai, who pushed the FCC to reverse its net-neutrality safeguards adopted under the Obama Administration, warned against regulating OTT video back in 2015.

“Some have proposed extending to over-the-top providers many of the rules that currently apply to cable operators and satellite providers, regulations that in many cases are over two decades old,” Pai told an industry group at the time.

“I strongly oppose this idea. Given the remarkable success of the over-the-top video industry — success driven in part by regulatory restraint — I don’t believe we should change our regulatory approach,” he said.

 

Cable Trade Group Enters Legal Defense of FCC’s Net Neutrality Pushback

The American Cable Association has entered the legal defense of the Federal Communications Commission’s ruling to roll back Internet regulatory provisions, also known as Net Neutrality.

The ACA March 16 filed a motion to intervene in the case with the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.

The court was selected by lottery to hear the case challenging the FCC’s ruling last December to reclassify Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as information service providers. That action – restoring lighter regulatory oversight in a 3-2 vote along political lines – overturned the prior FCC’s 2015 ruling that classified ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

In the motion, the ACA said it meets the requirements for intervention as a trade association of small and medium-sized cable companies. Many of ACA’s members provide broadband Internet access service, and thus are “directly affected” by the FCC’s declaratory ruling.

ACA member companies, which include not only traditional cable operators but also municipally owned systems and electric co-ops, pass over 18 million homes mostly in rural areas and small cities and provide a wide range of services, including video, voice, high-speed Internet, and dedicated fiber-optic connections to more than 7 million subscribers.

The ACA claims that despite assertions to the contrary by advocates of Net Neutrality, smaller ISPs represented by ACA have provided their customers with unrestricted access to Internet content on a consistent basis. It says tougher regulation hampers investment.

“The unwarranted common carrier burdens associated with Title II made these ISPs reluctant to [expand] their broadband networks and explore offering innovative services,” said the ACA.

The trade group contends the FCC’s move to rollback Net Neutrality guidelines would benefit the entire Internet economy, especially consumers. Net Neutrality advocates claim the opposite.