Internet Content In Peril In A Non-Competitive World

from the but-what's-the-threat...? dept

Dan Gillmor, who usually is quite articulate in explaining threats to consumers, has me stumped on his latest column. He’s worried about an issue he says no one has paid much attention to: the idea that the companies that connect us to the internet will also own content. About the best reason he can muster up for being worried about this is that those companies make you use their homepage (which is easy enough to change). He’s afraid that they’ll make it harder to get to other sites. How? I have no clue. No matter what I can still type whatever I want into the URL window and I go there. If I use the home page of my ISP, I don’t see how that changes anything. I’d argue that the connection people should be able to own content. They have a vested interest in making sure the internet is relevant enough to keep people paying them every month – so why shouldn’t they have a say in some of the content that’s out there. In the meantime, the ease with which anybody can publish information online means that there’s always going to be competing (free) content. I’m glad that Gillmor is always looking out for consumers, but I just don’t see the issue here.

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Comments on “Internet Content In Peril In A Non-Competitive World”

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lorenzo says:

walled gardens ?

haven t read the article, sri, but maybe he s worried about ISP forcing customers to accept “walled gardens”.

AOL has worked well as a walled garden because it is a legacy from a time when there wasn t much behind the wall, but Euro Telco experience with wap has show how difficult is forcing customers to accept limitations to their freedom of surfing (and iMode success has show how willing they are to subscribe to open platforms)

So, I d suggest his worries are exaggerated (if I am off topic I ll click the link and read the article though


kael (user link) says:

You don't see it because you have a brain.

Having read the article, the “fear” lies in the following fact: In a large enough group, people are stupid.
Yes, you or I can easily change our homepage as naturally as breathing, but there are a lot of people out there that don’t quite understand what a homepage is, let alone how to change it to something else.

The problem Dan points out is something to keep an eye on and summarized like this:
If the folks that provide your pipe are aligned with a particular content provider, those folks have a vested interest in pushing that content over other providers. There are a variety of ways this could be done, some positive such as a local cache, some bad such as limiting bandwidth to “other” content. Dan’s China example is an extreme case yet certainly a good example of what could happen.

thecaptain says:

Here's a concern...

I didn’t read the article either…however, the concept does raise concern a little..and something you said above makes me a little bit more worried.

I quote: “In the meantime, the ease with which anybody can publish information online means that there’s always going to be competing (free) content”

Basically, from that I gather that as long as anyone can freely publish info online, we don’t have to worry about “walled-gardens” and I agree with that because most customers are aware enough about what the net’s about to NOT accept ISPs that limit you too much. HOWEVER, what happens when ISPs and Big Co. Inc make it harder and harder to publish free info online? The way I see it, that’s the way to put the stranglehold on consumers…raise the cost of hosting/publishing a website until eventually no little guy can afford it…then effectively, all content will be owned by corporate interests.

I don’t think we should run around and scream “the sky is falling” just yet…but I don’t think we have NOTHING to worry about either.

mgallagher says:

I think Gillmor has a point

Mike’s right in that Gillmor doesn’t articulate very well the conseqences of vertical content/delivery integration, but hints at the problem toward the end of the article where he writes: “Of course, this wouldn’t be such a problem if there were lots of data conduits. There aren’t.”

I know Mike’s said in the past that he’s of the opinon that alternative (such as wireless) technologies will provide competition in the high-speed connectivity market. To some extent that’s already happening, but in general, we’re stuck with wires. That means expensive physical infrastructure (not that satellites are any cheaper 🙂 and thus few companies in a position to offer alternatives.

That leaves us with one, or if your luck two (telco and cable company) conduits to the home. The trouble is something like this – if you have only one theater in town, will you have more or fewer choices if it is owned by a movie studio. I can’t recite the specifics, but the 1948 Paramount decision by the Supreme Court said pretty clearly the one entity owning the the means of production, the product and the distribution mechanism was a bad thing.

And I think that’s where Gillmor is going. There isn’t enough concentration yet for the truly abusive situation that existed in the movie industry from about 1918-1948, but recent business and governmental actions seem to be moving in that direction.

So, keep you eyes open and be VERY wary of vertical integration might be the message. The practical implementations are less important now than the economic/regulatory framework that is being established.

Just my 0.0186708 EUR.

TRW says:

No Subject Given

There are a number of people that recognize the threat that vertical integration and vertical monopolies pose. Isenberg–whom you’ve cited here a number of times–has made this case on a number of occassions. The threat is even more general that indicated in the article, and cable companies are a great example.

Cable companies currently hold gatekeeper rights on all video(TV) content; it must pass thru their gates and gets stamped with their middleman mark-up (or not get thru at all). Because they also own the transport (connectivity) they can assure you never have sufficient bandwidth and/or quality-of-service on your *data* connection to get your video programming directly from the source, and can assure that no competing video programming providers can provide that content to you.

They prevent those business models from even forming. Yet the simple fact is that you currently pay your fair share of 200 channels from your cable operator, which are pre-selected for you, regardless of whether you only watch 10 or 12 most of the time. There is no competitive pressure on their vertical monopoly system to change that model, and they sure as heck aren’t going to facillitate it by allowing you a 30Mb data connection to bypass paying them for video programming which they have a monopoly on.

The majority of customers would save in a big way if they could just buy what they want, and it also opens the door to many new delivery models and program types. Also, an open-access, high-bandwidth world wide network allows literally millions of possible video programs to be brought to your home, which the cable guys will never provide because their business model is based on the need for huge scale economies.

In a networked world–with open access and “real” high speed connections rather than the “fraudband” of today–the cable guys would be decimated by thousands of fragmented competitors. They are well aware of this, which is why they try (fairly successfully so far) to spin public opinion into believing that anyone that uses over a couple megabits is an “abuser.” They support their claims by using the “fragility” of their shared network as the argument. The simple fact is that mainstream technology of today leapfrogs the desgned-in scarcity of their network architecture. Bottom line is they are withholding technology from the public arena–because they can! There will be real challenges to this in the coming couple years. Let’s hope for everyone’s sake that they, along with RIAA in a similar vein, wise-up and change their ways.

Steve Snyder says:

Compounded by media conglomeration

While owning content and connection isn’t necessarily bad, it is greatly compounded by the fact that the content owners are being merged so quickly it’s scary. When you think about how few companies own such a huge percentage of the content–think about it, between AOL/Time Warner, Disney, Viacom, Sony and Bertelsman they probably own what 80% of the content. Now think about the fact every year there’s more & more mergers and imagine the possibility (or fact for AOL/TW) that they own the connetion too and you can see the potential for major abuse. And while AOL/TW doesn’t seem to have a clue, don’t think for a second that they won’t eventually think of ways to leverage their control of both to make more money and ease the burden of choice from the consumer.

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