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ESPN & Net Neutrality

May 14, 2013


Stories going round today about a putative ESPN deal to pay wireless providers so that access to ESPN content is essentially free.  Salon.com puts it this way:




The defenders of “competition” and a “free market” have it all wrong. The pay-for-unlimited-bandwidth option actually restricts competition. That up-and-coming app developer with the cool new video streaming product who can’t afford to pay off AT&T or Comcast or Verizon ends up losing out. Entities with access to capital get a preferred position on our phones.

On the other side, there’s MediaFreedom.org, who sounds a free-market-based warning:

You get the point.  Wouldn’t it be pretty darn terrific if Internet companies could be treated just like regular companies, allowing them to ”discriminate” or prioritize their services as consumers demand?

Net Neutrality hogties the whole ecosystem – from the network providers on down to the content, app, service and device makers.  Man, what a waste of a policy lever based on nothing more than fear.  We pay for “discrimination” / priority in every segment of our economy, like the mail, the airlines, shopping clubs, hot lanes, etc.  It makes these services better.

I’m not so sure about this particular case and net-neutrality.  By way of analogy, if ESPN put its content on thumbdrives and then courier-ed those to peoples’ houses, the result would be the same, people get the content for free.  It would be goofy, but no one would protest; why then do people get exercised over a virtual method of doing the same thing?

Note that the proposed deal has nothing to do with priority – users don’t receive the ESPN content faster or cleaner than any other content, they just receive it for free.

Yes, I get that we want to separate content-providers and network-providers, and that there is a risk of a kind of "McDonald-zation" of internet content — i.e. mega-providers with money to pay for priority lock out worthwhile content from small providers who don’t have that money.  But to take the McDonald’s idea one step further – McDonald’s and its kin monopolize many key locations across the US, like highways rest stops, airports, malls, etc., yet independent restaurants have not been wiped out.  They are under pressure, but surely no one thinks independent eateries are going away – in fact people are willing to pay more to eat at an indie restaurant.  The real problem that indie eateries have is not access – it is marketing.  So, coming back to Salon.com’s comments, net neutrality will never help that “up-and-coming app developer” – that guy’s problem is not access to his app, it is marketing his app, which no amount of net-neutrality will ever do for him.

My net on this particular net-neutrality kerfuffle: Assuming access to all other content is unchanged, I don’t see the logic in trying to stop ESPN from paying peoples’ phone bills.  On ESPN’s prospects for success with this strategy, I suspect people will quickly conclude the content is worth what they are paying for it.

Categories: Technology
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