By Mari Silbey
Posting in Technology
Today's Senate hearing on the future of online video only hinted at the complexity of related net neutrality and other Internet infrastructure issues, but the debate continues.
Congress wants to understand the impact of online video on the television market, which is why the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the subject today. Unfortunately, online video is a complicated topic. It’s tied to other gnarly issues including video retransmission rights, broadband availability, and that biggest of all bugaboos, net neutrality.
For example, in today’s hearing, Senator John Kerry asked how critical net neutrality is to the video market. Media mogul Barry Diller – now a major investor in online video start-up Aereo – responded that its importance is at parity with the need for a national broadband policy that improves our country’s world broadband ranking to number one or number two. Diller’s response was a good one, but it still failed to address how we define net neutrality in the first place.
In theory, net neutrality simply means that all traffic sent over the Internet gets treated equally. However, the Internet isn’t one big monolith. There are big differences depending on whether you’re talking about last-mile Internet access, or the infrastructure that makes up the middle part of the Internet’s byways. Also, you have to differentiate between managed Internet Protocol (IP) networks, and the free and clear Internet, which also uses IP.
And here’s where things get sticky.
Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon are now setting aside some bandwidth to create their own managed networks in the last mile. And within those managed networks, caps on consumer data usage don’t apply. Internet video providers complain that lack of data caps mean ISPs are creating preferential status for their own online video services, thereby violating the principal of net neutrality. But on the other hand, the ISPs were the ones to invest in that underlying last-mile infrastructure originally. If some of it is used for the ISP’s own video services – which consumers choose to pay for – is that wrong?
All of this takes us full circle back to online video’s role in the television market. To level the playing field, should content providers have the ability to lease capacity from ISPs in order to manage their own video delivery? In that case, the programmers would be in charge of managing congestion and deciding whether to impose their own data caps. But that seems a bit impractical. For one thing, not all programmers want to be in the business of video delivery.
Or maybe programmers should just pay ISPs a certain amount of money to optimize last-mile delivery and take caps off the table for their services too. In that case, costs would go up for programmers, but they couldn’t complain about unfair advantage with consumers.
Or maybe Congress should create a big fat dividing line between Internet and TV service, and limit the amount of capacity ISPs can dedicate to TV service delivered over a managed IP network. That would theoretically leave more bandwidth for the rest of the Internet, and therefore create less pressure to cap usage and discourage other Internet video services.
But guess what. Even that discussion doesn’t take us to the end of the debate. Don’t forget that you also have to figure in video retransmission rights, and what guidelines should be put around channel bundles. Not to mention the issue of broadband availability. There are still rural areas where high-speed Internet isn’t even an option for consumers. And what about wireless connectivity?
Like I said, online video attaches to some seriously gnarly issues. Is it good that Congress is trying to understand the landscape better? Absolutely. Do all of our lawmakers have a firm grasp on the topic today? I don’t think we’ve even settled the net neutrality question. And that’s only one part of the online video debate.
Apr 24, 2012
- - Network neutrality (also net neutrality, Internet neutrality) is a principle that advocates no restrictions by Internet service providers or governments on consumers' access to networks that participate in the Internet. Specifically, network neutrality would prevent restrictions on content, sites, platforms, types of equipment that may be attached, and modes of communication. - - There is no denying that the Internet is a great tool for commerce and the exchange of ideas, but why does the internet have to be exempt from all copyright and intellectual property laws? Forget big businesses, think small. A local reporter spends his entire life dreaming of being an author, so he writes a book on crimes he has covered. Net neutrality prevents him from bypassing the big tree kill paper publishers and going to an online publisher. Where he can sell it as a download for your favorite e-reader. Net neutrality says anyone can buy his book and post it for free to the entire world. You just stole that mans life work and he made only a few bucks off it from the first person that bought it. I completely agree with allowing any legal content, but theft is theft. Even when it is just a collection of bits. The line must be held.
IP rights & net neutrality are separate issues. IP rights issues existed prior to the creation of the internet. Net neutrality wouldn't be an issue if the (inter)net didn't exist. There was a broadly similar issue with long distance service providers after AT&T was broken up. It seems so long ago.
... was never in my definition of net neutrality. All net neutrality means to me is that the ISP's can't favor or disfavor anything offered on the internet over something else. What I think really needs to happen is that the providing of connectivity needs to be completely separated from the providing of content. Then there is no possible conflict of interest.
Many people are using the net neutrality fight to weaken IP laws. We have raised a generation who think IP rights mean nothing once something is on the Internet. They want it free on the Internet. It does not matter if it is a book or a movie or a picture. They feel they are entitled to it free on the Internet. The first sentence says it all. - - the impact of online video on the television market - - TV show producers can no longer depend on making money from syndication because 5 minutes after a show ends it is posed by someone on Youtube. Companies have bought into putting stuff online by using paid services like Netflix, but even those are bypassed by the I WANT IT FREE people who post shows outside pay walls. That is where it gets dicey. Youtube, for example, would need tighter tracking on who posts content if they ever hope to enforce copyright laws. Lets face it, the task is daunting.
I agree with your definition of net neutrality, it is simple and straight to the point. The idea of separating content from connectivity sounds good although probably hard to put into place due to the way our dysfunctional congress works.
Unfortunately it's a bit late to separate connectivity from content completely. Congress approved the Comcast/NBCU merger. That ship has sailed.
A representative democracy operates on the principle that the people who are the best at legislating will get elected to legislatures, over time. What happens in the real world is that the people who are best at elections get elected.
No one's life or liberty is safe while congress is in session. Another one by Will Rogers, radio comedian from the 30's, he said that he tells jokes for a living but when congress tells a joke it becomes a law. Congress has had a bad reputation for a long time.