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​AT&T DirecTV Now: The good, the bad, and the ugly

At first glance, it looks like just another internet streaming service. A deeper look shows that it breaks net neutrality.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

I like online TV streaming services, such as Sling TV, a lot. So, when AT&T introduced its new DirecTV Now streaming service I was very interested. Then, I took a closer look at how it tramples net neutrality. Now, I'm interested for an entirely different reason.

DirecTV Now Channels

The good news is DirecTV Now offers a good, affordable channel package. The bad news is it breaks net neutrality in delivering it.

First the good news. You will be able to watch over 100 channels on DirecTV's "Go Big" package. If you sign up early, this will cost you $35 per month. The standard prices and packages are:

  • Live a Little -- $35/month (60+ channels)
  • Just Right -- $50/month (80+ channels)
  • Go Big -- $60/month (100+ channels)
  • Gotta Have it -- $70/month (120+ channels)

In these packages, you'll find ABC, Fox and NBC broadcast channels, and cable channels such as ESPN, HGTV, CNN, and Nickelodeon. At the 100-channel level you'll also get such channels as DIY Networks, BBC World News, and NBA TV. HBO and Cinemax will also be available for $5 each a month. What you won't get is CBS and Showtime.

Now for the bad.

You also won't get cloud DVR services. PlayStation Vue already offers this and Sling TV is opening a beta cloud DVR program.

Also those local broadcast networks? You only get those in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, or New York City, where the broadcaster owns a local station. If you live, as I do, somewhere else, you'll only get next day video-on-demand for these networks.

That said, it's not that different from what Sling TV and PlayStation Vue offers. If you want local channels for the cheapest possible price your best bet is still an antenna for over-the-air broadcasts.

Oh, and NFL fans? You won't find DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket here. That's still only available for DirecTV satellite customers.

Out the door, DirecTV Now doesn't support Roku, the best of today's streaming devices. At launch DirecTV Now will support Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, web browsers, Android, iOS, Chromecast, and Google Cast TVs. If you pre-pay for any level of service, AT&T will throw an Amazon Fire Stick into the deal. For three months, they'll give you an Apple TV. In early 2017, AT&T claims the service will support Roku, Samsung smart TVs, and Amazon Fire tablets.

Finally, there's the ugly.

AT&T is smashing net neutrality with DirecTV Now. AT&T is a major broadband and wireless internet service provider (ISP). The company states that "If you're an AT&T Mobility customer, DirecTV will pick up the tab for data to help you achieve all your binge-worthy goals. Data Free TV means you won't use your AT&T mobile data for watching DirecTV Now."

Now that's quite a deal if you're at AT&T 4G user. Video eats up bandwidth like an elephant does peanuts. But, you're screwed if you use Verizon or any other service.

You're also likely to be messed over after the first year or two. The entire point of net neutrality is that all internet data is treated equally. No one is allowed to put, say, Netflix data into a fast lane or YouTube videos into a slow lane.

What AT&T is trying to do is called zero rating. In this, AT&T isn't slowing down rivals Sling TV or PlayStation Vue. Nor is it speeding up DirecTV Now. Instead, in zero rating the content provider picks up the user's data charges. It just so happens that in this case, AT&T owns DirecTV. In short, AT&T is just shuffling money between accounts.

That's great for customers in the short run. But, in the long run it makes it much harder for its competitors, and afterwards its customers. If, for example, AT&T was successful in knocking out its competition, it could then drop zero rating and jack up its prices.

Sound far-fetched? AT&T is buying Time Warner Inc for $85.4 billion. This would give them control of such content providers as CNN, HBO, DC Comics, Warner Bros, and Cartoon Network.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) saw this coming and has stated that it has "serious concerns" about AT&T zero rating DirecTV Now.

They have reason. What looks like a sweet deal now can easily become poisonous.

Worst still, incoming president Trump is expected to back away from net neutrality. AT&T's plans plus Trump's anti-business regulation stance means net neutrality, and thus our open, free internet, is endangered.

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