If AT&T Mobile Broadband Banned TV Streaming, Why Does It Allow MLB Streaming?

from the net-neutrality? dept

Earlier this year, we covered AT&T's back and forth over its terms of service, concerning whether or not services like SlingMedia's place shifting (streaming from your TV to a phone or laptop) was allowed. Some had noticed that AT&T's terms of service appeared to forbid it -- but then AT&T said it was a mistake and took it out, only to change its position a little later, and reinsert the language. Because of that, Sling had to disable its own player from working when an iPhone is connected via the 3G cellular network, rather than a WiFi connection.

Yet, recently, Major League Baseball's digital arm, MLB.com announced that it was going to start streaming video of games to its iPhone app, even on 3G connections -- and AT&T seemed fine with it. However, this differential treatment is leading to charges of favoritism and discrimination, even bringing out the dreaded charges that "net neutrality has been broken." The specific question is why AT&T gets to choose which streaming video apps are allowed, and which are not. If your regular ISP told you that you could watch Hulu, but not YouTube, there would be quite an outrage.

AT&T's response is disingenuous, at best, claiming:
AT&T said the MLB app streams video from MLB's website, while SlingPlayer streams from the TV set-top box Slingbox. AT&T also said the company is only trying to ensure all users on its network get the best possible service.

"We're certainly not crippling any apps," an AT&T spokesman said. "This is an issue of fairness.... While we would like to support all video services across our network, the reality is that wireless networks simply lack the capacity to support customers streaming hours of cable, satellite or IPTV video programming to individual users."
While this -- once again -- highlights the point that mobile cellular services are nowhere near legitimate competitors for real broadband services, note that the AT&T person never actually answers the question. The fact that Sling streams from a settop box and MLB streams from MLB's website is functionally meaningless to the iPhone. To the iPhone user it's the same thing. It doesn't care where the server is placed -- it's just receiving a video stream. So AT&T is not being honest or upfront about this at all. If the network is a problem, then it shouldn't allow video at all. Picking and choosing who gets to run video certainly smacks of discrimination and favoritism -- exactly the sort of thing the FCC claims is not allowed.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 7:44am

    Well, it actually only makes the point that the roll out of 3g / 3.5g isn't as fast as the uptake on equipment. The demand is there, but actually getting enough bandwidth out there is a real issue.

    Pure technical question: Does 3g support a "broadcast mode" where the same video signal is picked up by multiple receivers?

     

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      ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jun 29th, 2009 @ 7:50am

      Re:

      They're supposed to roll out tethering for the iPhone soon, so I hope their network is capable.

       

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      Dan J., Jun 29th, 2009 @ 8:03am

      Re:

      In other words, do they support multicasting? AT&T's response isn't very clear but there may be some underlying technical issues that may justify the decision.

      An MLB game is a one to many stream. Particularly if they support multicasting or cache the stream at different points on the network, it may be much less of a bandwidth hit than multiple customers running a one to one stream from their Slingbox to their mobile.

       

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        JD, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 8:20am

        Re: Re:

        Dan J. is correct, there's a huge difference to a wireless infrastructure between multicasting a single stream vs. forwarding many streams on a one-to-one basis.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 8:47am

        Re: Re:

        That was my thought - if they have a simple way to use a single data stream to cover an unlimited number of viewers in an area, it might work out. Sling would suggest every single user with their own single dataflow, which would get expensive to do really quickly.

         

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          Derek Kerton (profile), Jun 29th, 2009 @ 3:32pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Yes, there is standards-based technology for broadcasting video over GMS-based 3G networks. It's called MBMS:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multimedia_Broadcast_Multicast_Service

          But the technology is not widely implemented by wireless voice carriers, because the carrier would have to dedicate bandwidth to the broadcast and take it away from voice or unicast data. Does everybody really want to watch MLB, or anything else? Not so much.

          Note the Wikipedia entry is written by enthusiasts. However, many EU carriers are looking to use MBMS for mobile TV in their 5MHz of unpaired TDD spectrum.

           

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      inc, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 4:07pm

      Re:

      i believe the technical term is multi-cast.

       

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    Fushta, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 7:50am

    Rhetorical Question of the Day #1

    Nothing to do with demand.
    Nothing to do with pipeline.
    Everything to do with how much money is changing hands.
    That's all that ever matters to AT&T anymore.

     

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      mjb5406 (profile), Jun 29th, 2009 @ 8:28am

      Re: Rhetorical Question of the Day #1

      You hit the nail on the head... MLB is providing kickbacks to AT&T to get their "blessing" and Sling, who doesn't hav such deep pockets, did not. But will AT&T ever be honest about it? Why start now???

       

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      reader, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 10:26pm

      Re: Rhetorical Question of the Day #1

      yes... sadly true... remember the old at&t... the one that stood up for its customers when the govt came a knocking... and kept inventing and expanding and perfecting... ahh the good old days.

       

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    Tarak Suthar, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 7:57am

    NFL/Directv iPhone Game Streams

    Adding onto the MLB Streaming ...

    Directv will be submitting an app to Apple's App Store to allow for NFL games to be streamed live to Sunday Ticket Superfan customers.

    https://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/content/sports/nfl_online_mobile

     

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    brent (profile), Jun 29th, 2009 @ 9:10am

    Isn't it AT&Ts network to do what they want?

    I don't see the problem here. Isn't the network owned by AT&T? I certainly hope people aren't feeling entitled to performing whatever they may like on their network. I have to assume that Mike is suggesting that AT&T could have made a better decision in allowing Slingbox players to stream over their networks. But in no way should people feel that AT&T owes them this functionality on their network (unless the ToS didn't bar it when they signed it). Also AT&T is a business out there to make money. There is no other goal more important to a company than that and if streaming MLB games over their network is the best way for them to make money than i don't see why people would expect them not to do it.

    the only justification AT&T needs is that they will make more money.

     

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      Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 29th, 2009 @ 9:25am

      Re: Isn't it AT&Ts network to do what they want?

      "I don't see the problem here. Isn't the network owned by AT&T? I certainly hope people aren't feeling entitled to performing whatever they may like on their network."

      That'd be correct if it was a free market, instead of limited competition by government mandate via deregulation. If the govt. is going to tell us we're better off allowing provider monopolies/duopolies, then they should be less restrictive to the consumer. Or they could just allow competition.

      "There is no other goal more important to a company than that and if streaming MLB games over their network is the best way for them to make money than i don't see why people would expect them not to do it."

      That's fine, but again, if there is a consumer demand to stream Slingbox, and the govt. isn't going to allow a competitive market, then yes, AT&T should be required to meet public demand.

       

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      Derek Kerton (profile), Jun 29th, 2009 @ 3:40pm

      Re: Isn't it AT&Ts network to do what they want?

      And freedom sucks, too!

      Come on. I pay ATT for up to 5GB of mobile data traffic per month. If it's a neutral network, then it's none of their business whether I use 5GB of email, 5GB of browser access,5GB of Cingular Video (CV), or 5GB of Slingbox.

      Now, I can appreciate their problem that Sling and other un-authorized video streaming eat up the bandwidth. They do. My WinMo sling throws about 45 MB for a half hour show, which is about the same amount as my mobile email uses all month. I understand that if everyone does this, it hurts the network. But they should not be able to choose what I do - they should only be able to define how I use their network. Currently, that is "up to 5GB".

      The current comment from ATT is like them being a gas station, selling you 10 gallons of gas, and then telling you which brands and types of car you can put the gas into. "No station wagons, and only Ford."

      Yeah. I like the gas station analogies.

       

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        reader, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 10:29pm

        Re: Re: Isn't it AT&Ts network to do what they want?

        don't forget that each additional gig is only $500 bucks... what a value.

         

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        charles, Jul 1st, 2009 @ 10:09am

        Re: Re: Isn't it AT&Ts network to do what they want?

        The problem is that if everyone used their entire 5GB for one-to-one video streams, the cost of the 5GB data plan would go up dramatically due to the need to upgrade capacity across the network. As it is now, the majority of the users who don't use anywhere near 5GB are subsidizing the cost of the wireless data network for heavy users.

        The way i see it, the industry can go one of two ways: 1)Switch to metered data plans where you pay per MB, making the carrier indifferent to what you use the MB for, or 2) keep "unlimited" plans that more tightly control access to various types of data/content. I'm not sure which is better.

         

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 29th, 2009 @ 9:18am

    ?

    "However, this differential treatment is leading..."

    Might be wrong, but did you mean deferential?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 9:26am

    The only people who watch MLB are old white Republicans and Sarah Palin (as Letterman reported a few weeks ago).

    Sonsidering all the mergers of AT&T and lovey-dovey relationships with the NSA, CIA, It'd say they are offering MLB to *THEIR* fans.

    After all, the general public already gets American Idol voting (which consequently is the best, most efficient method of transmission, versus real inefficient video streams of slow moving Baseball.)

    As for other content, it can't be done right now. Investments in the "Capital Moneycounting Department" for shovels and wheelbarrows have taken precedence to building capacity into the network.

     

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      Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 29th, 2009 @ 12:26pm

      Re:

      "The only people who watch MLB are old white Republicans and Sarah Palin (as Letterman reported a few weeks ago)."

      ...Barack Obama is a White Sox fan AND throwing out the first pitch in this year's All Star game. So.....no.

       

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    minijedimaster (profile), Jun 29th, 2009 @ 9:55am

    The only people who watch MLB are old white Republicans and Sarah Palin (as Letterman reported a few weeks ago).

    Are you seriously that obtuse?

     

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    PrometheeFeu (profile), Jun 29th, 2009 @ 10:05am

    European Standard for Cell Phone Chargers

    http://abonnes.lemonde.fr/technologies/article/2009/06/29/telephones-portables-des-chargeurs-uniques -annonces-pour-2010_1213195_651865.html

    Talking of cellphones, the European Commission has just brokered a deal between a number of cell phone manufacturers to start using the same charger by next year. They are also working on a similar deal for laptops and digital cameras... See, governement can do some good things once in a while...

     

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      Derek Kerton (profile), Jun 29th, 2009 @ 3:57pm

      Re: European Standard for Cell Phone Chargers

      That article appears to be behind "une paywall", so le hyperlink ne marche pas.

      Anyways, for this case, don't celebrate government too much. This is something that the cellular makers are working together on doing, and was reported out of of the industry's MWC confab in Barcelona this February.

      http://www.itpro.co.uk/609900/mwc-09-industry-unites-for-universal-mobile-charger

      Wh ile there has been pressure from the EU for phones to be more green, there is no way any government agency can claim to have pushed around the entire globe's telecom ecosystem. Nope, this was done by the handset vendors, for their own good. Here's why:

      Every phone shipped needs to have a power charger shipped with it and this adds to the total cost of the handset. Vendors are attracted to the universal plug because in using it, they can exclude this cost, and say "BYO plug".

      Also, vendors need to package each terminal with a regionally compatible plug, which increases logistics costs. By completely excluding the plug, the exact same boxed phone could be shipped to the UK or the US. That's more cost savings.

      This is good for the environment, since we all have a few chargers lying around, and good for consumer choice, because now we can buy the charger we prefer (car, fast, cheap, dock, stand, etc)

      And if you want to allocate credit, the Chinese government might have been first in 2006:
      http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200612/19/eng20061219_334047.html

       

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    Octothorpe (profile), Jun 29th, 2009 @ 10:23am

    Network Engineering

    As a network engineer I must point out the fallacy that "data is data is data" . To say that video streaming from a user slingbox versus mlb.com is the same is incorrect. mlb.com may use multicast technology that would greatly reduce the load on AT&Ts network, a slingbox can't use the same a[pproach as there is usually only one user per slingbox versus thousands to mlb.com.

    I must says though, AT&T, if you network really is that poor, fix it!

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 2:07pm

      Re: Network Engineering

      As a network engineer I must point out the fallacy that "data is data is data" . To say that video streaming from a user slingbox versus mlb.com is the same is incorrect. mlb.com may use multicast technology that would greatly reduce the load on AT&Ts network, a slingbox can't use the same a[pproach as there is usually only one user per slingbox versus thousands to mlb.com.

      I haven't seen any indication that the mlb streams are multicast. If you have some information to cite that says they are, then please do. Otherwise, please quit making stuff up.

       

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      Derek Kerton (profile), Jun 29th, 2009 @ 4:07pm

      Re: Network Engineering

      "data is not data is not data"

      Well, OK. But if a subscriber pays for 5GB of "data". Then it should be true that 5GB is 5GB is 5GB.

      ATT advertises a certain speed of network, then sell a contract with a cap of 5GB. Now I just want them to deliver.

      Just transmit my darned bits! That's what I pay for, that's what our deal is. Stop snooping into what I'm sending.

      The funny thing is that the only reason I need to sling is because the darned rights holders to the show won't allow my Tivo to just transmit the file to my phone. So I need to play the Tivo file, capture it with my sling, and send it as a stream. I'd be happy to simply have it sent as a data file. One industry prevents me from doing things one way, and another wants to prevent my workaround.

      All this despite the fact that I am paying good money for the show ($90 cable bill) and the bandwidth ($60 ISP and $30 ATT data plan) and the slingbox, and my tivo! For $180 a month, can I please watch my @#$@# content!

       

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      identicon
      Robert A. Rosenberg, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 5:08pm

      Re: Network Engineering

      Using Multi-Cast [MC] is not enough. It must be IPv6 (not IPv4) Multi-Cast. With IPv4 MC, the connection between the user and the MC Server is a Uni-Cast session. IOW: If 5 users on the same node (in this case Cell Tower) are getting the Video Stream, there are 5 copies flowing (and eating the Bandwidth). With IPv6 MC, there is ONLY ONE session and Video Stream and each user is authorized to receive it (since they have a MC IPN address that the session is being sent to). An analogy is that IPv4 MC is like listening to a CD with the Audio (each listener needs their own CD), while IPv6 is like hearing it on the radio (they just tune to the broadcast).

       

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    identicon
    taoareyou, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 10:29am

    Conflict of Interest

    AT&T offers Mobi-TV, a service where they broadcast TV to certain phones for a monthly fee. Obviously they don't want someone else providing this service and losing the revenue.

     

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    Double Down, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 10:54am

    Hypocrisy is the issue

    I'd like to point out this simple fact, if you owned a Winmo phone or Blackberry on AT&T--which still far out number the iphone in total users on their network--then you can stream your Slingbox to a phone to your heart's content. Same 3G network, different policy. Someone please explain the difference of a stream to an iPhone opposed to a Winmo or Blackberry. That is what the real issue is. My feeling is that it all goes back to how AT&T will get it's dirty, grubby finger into the pie.

     

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    JfiveNYC, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 11:05am

    You all are forgetting about ATTs U-Verse which will eventually stream to the iPhone. That is why they are worried about Sling eating up bandwidth.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 12:18pm

    Can't speak spanish but...

    I wouldn't mind watching Telemundo; especially the soap operas, on my phone.

    Is there a Spanish or Foreign Language programming carriage requirement yet? Should there be?

     

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      Jay H, Jun 30th, 2009 @ 9:26am

      Re: Can't speak spanish but...

      Anoymous Coward - if you're looking to watch Telemundo on AT&T, just text TELE to 43888. MobiTV offers a service called MobiTV en Espanol (yes, streaming on AT&T) with over 25 live & made-for-mobile spanish-language channels, including full-length novelas from Telemundo.

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 2:49pm

    uhg

     

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    TJ, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 7:46pm

    "even bringing out the dreaded charges that 'net neutrality has been broken.' "

    Gosh Mike, that phrase seems a bit snarky since everything else you say makes clear that AT&T's behavior here is a classic example of why so many people care about net neutrailty.

     

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    Dan, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 11:53pm

    AT&T's claim that their network can't handle the load may be true. After all DSL over barbed wire is pushing it some. On the other hand they could actually upgrade to coax or maybe even fibre. They have been operating on 19th century infrastructure far to long.

     

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    Jeffrey Allyn Brown, Jun 30th, 2009 @ 8:27am

    AT&T full of it

    They just were descriminating against sling in particular. There is another tv place shifting service that runs perfectly fine on Iphone 3g and even edge if the software is set right. ORB has been running on iphone longer than sling and simply does the same if not more than sling. as it will stream any pre configured media on your home system regardless of codec including flash, dvd, xvid. If it plays on your computer it will play on orb any where else you are at. And with the TV card in my computer i get all of my live tv just like sling. www.orb.com If AT&T wanted to prevent media streaming or even just live media streaming they aren't doing a very good job of it by only targeting sling media.

    --Jeff

     

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    Matt, Nov 14th, 2009 @ 11:32am

    AT&T is a load of crap if Orb Live can stream live tv why can't sling

    As my subject states AT&T is a true load of crap. They state sling can't use 3G because it streams from your home to your iPhone and is a violation of their terms of service. If this is the case than why can OrbLive which is very identical to the sling mobile app, be allowed to stream live tv from your home. AT&T is picking and choosing who can use these features and it's stupid. Further they are only squishing us iPhone users and not letting us use sling mobile over 3G which they're blackberry users can do. I'm sick and tired of AT&T, sometimes I think they are larger control freaks than apple. The FCC needs to come in and address this issue. There are standards set by the FCC and AT&T needs to follow them. It's not our fault the AT&T network is a piece of shit and cannot handle the best smartphone the world has seen so far. I really hope verizon gets the iPhone becuz if so I'm saying good bye to AT&T forever.

     

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    identicon
    upa usb, Dec 7th, 2010 @ 1:28am

    Girls always look on themselves as proud princesses, with the exception of a small number of either extremely ugly or exceedingly smart ones.

     

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    smokelley, Jul 31st, 2011 @ 6:40pm

    Dear AT&T, just answer the goddamn question and give us what we want. Quit being such greedy little misers.

    S

     

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