ESPN, don't choke our Internet

ESPN, don't choke our Internet

Summary:   In his post Is ESPN committing reverse Net Neutrality, ZDNet colleague George Ou looks at the case I've referred to in which ESPN360-delivered streaming video of each World Cup match is available only to subscribers of certain broadband providers- but not to those subscribers who access the Internet through Comcast, Cablevision, AT&T, and Time Warner Cable.  "Could this be a case of reverse Net neutrality service blocking," George writes.

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TOPICS: Browser
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In his post Is ESPN committing reverse Net Neutrality, ZDNet colleague George Ou looks at the case I've referred to in which ESPN360-delivered streaming video of each World Cup match is available only to subscribers of certain broadband providers- but not to those subscribers who access the Internet through Comcast, Cablevision, AT&T, and Time Warner Cable. 

"Could this be a case of reverse Net neutrality service blocking," George writes. "If this is the case then Russell might be right about a neutrality violation, but he may have gotten the role of the perpetrator and victim backwards."

He then makes the case that because a page that some subscribers see in which they are notified their Internet access provider is not offering this content, but are being encouraged to lobby their ISP to do so, seems a case of ESPN playing hardball with these services by setting up a business model in which these providers are, in effect, being asked to bear part of the infrastructure cost.

A cost, George believes, that Comcast and others have - by choosing not to make the World Cup stream available- doesn't want to recoup the cost by violating Net neutrality precepts by either charging extra for this premium content or not recoup the cost by eating the expenses.

Let's see what George says here:

So what does all of this mean?  Is it possible that ESPN is making certain demands of the ISPs to be able to "carry" ESPN360 as if they were cable companies?  Does this mean that ESPN is demanding preferential treatment and free connectivity to the ISPs that aren't ESPN360 carriers?  Does this mean ESPN360 is demanding free caching services from the ISPs since that is the only scalable way to effectively deliver high-quality video on demand?  And most importantly, is ESPN demanding a fee per subscriber from the ISP?  If any of this is true, those of us who don't watch ESPN will be forced in to subsidizing this sort of activity.

As to this argument, it seems to me that ESPN has stars in their eyes by making content available online that today's Internet infrastructure is not fully equipped to deliver. Give it another name: greed. We have all this great capacity for compelling programming, but we want to ask ISPs to help us bear the cost so that it makes sense for us to offer this stuff online as well as on cable.

Only one thing, ESPN.

This isn't your Internet, to forcibly stuff more content through than the Internet can't handle. This is the people's Internet, not a cartel. If the Internet of 2006 is not capable of natively showing this content without the artificial boost that caching servers provide, then don't offer it.

There should be some regulatory or statutory proscription against Internet content companies offering content that is too fast for the Internet as a whole, and then playing favorites with those providers who aid and abet this violation of Net neutrality by forming an extortionist cartel with content providers that enable some Internet users with deeper pockets to see this content, and others not.  

Nothing is wrong with using caching servers, but the principle ought to be that you don't force extra bandwidth through the Internet of today. If you must, let it pixellate, let it buffer - and then, within equitable parameters to the consumer, let the Internet access providers raise general - not per-event- Internet access rates in order to fund the capital expenditures necessary to beef up their speeds.

Next, George says: 

Now if ESPN can demand money from ISPs for the privilege of being able to "carry" ESPN360, then why couldn't Google video demand similar privileges and payment from ISPs since it would be suicidal for any ISP to not be able to "carry" Google or Google Video?  Google certainly is in a much better position to bully any ISP than the other way around.  Technically speaking, it would be very easy for a content provider to cut off any IP range they want and effectively block all ISPs that won't share their subscription revenues.

He adds:

The Net neutrality advocates worry so much about the content transporters that they have never considered the possibility of "evil" content producers.  While I don't know the exact business model behind this ESPN360 deal, it certainly looks like ESPN is blocking entire blocks of IP addresses that correspond to non-paying ISPs.  If this is true, doesn't this turn the entire Net neutrality debate on its head since we may need to reverse our focus towards the abusive content companies? 

Well, I have been giving this a lot of thought. I wouldn't say "reverse our focus toward the abusive content companies." I'd say expand our focus to include these practices such as we are seeing from ESPN360.

Expand it statutorily, by not allowing content companies to discriminate their  Internet rich media distribution by compelling prospective carrier distributors to play their way. If the content companies want to offset the cost of caching, let them charge their advertisers a premium to have their ads appear on these streams, and then apply a portion of that extra ad income to paying the Akamai bill.

Don't force the carriers- and by extension, the public- to pay for this.

Topic: Browser

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3 comments
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  • Agreed

    ...let's hope the senate listens!
    wmlundine
  • My opinion on this...

    The ISPs are pipe-delivery companies. I pay for the use of pipes at the specified flow rate. Content providers have their own ISPs and pay those ISPs at their specified flow rates, which are more adjustable due to more variable and less restricted flow rate maximums. In turn these ISPs connect to "SuperISPs" the same way, and pay (or at least SHOULD pay) with the same model. This is the "inter" net.

    My thought is, if ESPN wants paid for broadcasting it's media, it should be asking the content viewers to pay, rather than the viewer's ISP. Similarly, if the ISP wants money for guaranteed bandwidth, it should be asking the content viewer for this money, rather than content providers.

    What the telecoms are trying to sell Congress through their paid golfing trips to Congressional staffers (which I can't afford, so my congressman won't listen to me like he does to them. bummer) is that forcing content providers to pay them for "content crossing rights" is ethical and benefits the content users. I believe this is wrong, because the consumer ISPs are pipes with fixed bandwidth, and guarantees for some content providers means a cut in bandwidth for others, that might be the consumers preferred sites.

    I think if the ISPs want paid for guaranteed bandwidth for certain sites, the payer should be us consumers. They can call it premium content delivery for popular sites of the consumers choosing. If the consumer doesn't want that, he can just stick with the current rush-hour traffic-jam situation.
    D. W. Bierbaum
    • Agreed

      I totally agree.

      Neal Saferstein
      Neal Saferstein