So far, this week’s headlines have been dominated by the Net Neutrality debate, as President Obama has made his position clear, coming out in support of reclassification, which would subject broadband ISPs to new regulation under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Even for a debate that has already garnered plenty of attention, the reaction to the president’s entry into the fray was swift and intense. As expected in politics, opponents of the president were quick to bash his stance, while cable company stocks took a slide. But the obvious consequences aside, what does Net Neutrality mean for the TV industry of today and of tomorrow?
So far, a sticking point of the debate has been the so called “internet fast lanes” proposed by the FCC earlier this year. This would give ISPs the liberty to charge heavy users (Netflix, that means you) for faster speeds or preferential treatment of their content. Netflix has grabbed headlines recently, after having been forced to pay interconnection fees to Verizon, Comcast, and others to ensure reliability of their service to mutual customers of these companies. As expected, Netflix was none too happy about having to pay up. The fast lanes proposal was largely seen as a green light for all Internet service providers to begin demanding fees from a plethora of large companies that serve up content to millions of users. Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, and others would likely find themselves in a pay to play scenario. As competitors, no one of these companies would be content to offer an inferior level of service, so if one were to begin paying for fast lane treatment, all of the others would likely do the same. Long story short, all of these big companies would pay big bucks to the cable companies just to eventually arrive back at the same equal footing that they’re on now. Smaller companies, on the other hand, who may not have the money or desire to pay steep fees, would start off at a significant disadvantage to the big guys, raising the question of how the next Netflix could ever compete with the old Netflix without a level playing field.
On the other side of the debate, you have the cable and phone companies who are worried sick about Title II. They argue that the current regulatory regime is not broken and is in no need of such an extreme fix. Light regulation, they say, has enabled the explosive growth of internet access and speeds in the past few decades. Changing that would result in much slower innovation, lost jobs, and an entire industry strangled by red tape. Arguments range from the frequent right-wing talking point that the government simply can’t do anything right, to a more moderate position that a government agency like the FCC wouldn’t be nimble enough to regulate such a fast-changing technology driven industry. The Telecommunications Act, as the cable companies like to point out, was originally written in the 1930s to regulate the phone companies. While it was updated in the 90s, many still find it hard to fathom that a modern marvel like the Internet could potentially be governed by laws that are nearly a century old, and thus treat the Title II approach with extreme skepticism.
Other ideas have been floated since the debate was first touched off. AT&T has proposed a user-driven prioritization plan, where an ISPs customers could select services they want prioritized, then giving an ISP the ability to go and collect a fee from those companies chosen by the users. Recently FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed a “hybrid” approach, that would apply Title II only on the commercial end, prohibiting paid prioritization among content providers, but leaving the door open on the consumer side. Since “fast lanes” or paid prioritization has been the big point of contention, some are seeing solutions that forbid that without using Title II as potential compromises.
Obviously the cable companies don’t want to be subject to any new regulations, and I’m sure they wouldn’t mind being able to make even more money by selling access to fast lanes. Big internet companies and content vendors on the other hand, would rather see an enforced equal playing field, and assurances that they wouldn’t be forced to pay up for access. The stakes are high for both sides, with some going as far as to call this one of the most significant policy debates of this generation. But what does Net Neutrality mean for the media company of the future, FreeCast Inc? Nothing. Despite performing seemingly the same function as pay TV providers like Comcast or SVOD services like Netflix, FreeCast Inc is essentially unaffected by fast lanes, Title II, or any of the other aspects of the Net Neutrality debate. Rather than aggregate content like the others, we aggregate our audience to the content at its sources. Since FreeCast Inc isn’t responsible for or in control of how that content is delivered, we don’t have to worry about paying fees, or seeing our service degraded by network prioritization. Rabbit TV Plus is an e-media guide, so just like TV guide’s business in the past, it’s unaffected by technical changes or regulations on the industry.