"Reverse Net Neutrality" The Latest Distraction

from the blah-blah-blah-blah dept

The debate over net neutrality is pretty quickly descending into farce, with both sides’ tactics leaving a lot to be desired, and a serious shortage of rational thought on the issue. Now, there’s apparently another issue we’ve all got to worry about — “reverse network neutrality”. A couple of bloggers at ZDnet are up in arms about the ESPN 360 online service, which is available only to customers of particular cable ISPs. One (wrongfully) alleges ESPN didn’t pay certain providers, so its content is blocked, and the other picks up the ball and runs with it, as evidence “we may need to reverse our focus towards the abusive content companies” demanding payment from ISPs for their content. Once again, people on both sides of the issue are in the wrong. It’s not as if certain ISPs are blocking ESPN.com. The 360 service is something the network sells to ISPs so they can offer some type of “exclusive” content to their customers, and it has every right to choose how it distributes its content, even if the chosen method limits its audience. In addition, this type of content deal has existed for a long time, and is very common (in ISP’s portal deals, for instance). Content providers, regardless of media, have always had the right to choose how they distribute their content, and to a certain extent, who can consume it. The key difference is that they’re the ones making the determination, not the provider of the medium itself. It’s sort of like this: your phone rings, and you look at the caller ID, and decide if you want to allow the person calling to speak to you, as is your choice. That’s significantly different than dialing another number on your phone, only to find out your telephone company won’t put the call through because they don’t like who you’re calling.

Arguing that content providers are in the wrong because they’re selling access to their content is nothing short of silly, no matter which side you look at things from. Saying that any net content “should be available to every Internet user with a connection that has the physical capacity to display that content” is ridiculous, as content providers should be free to choose their own business models (no matter how backwards or short-sighted). Decisions about content should be made at the ends of the network, by the provider or consumer, not by somebody in the middle whose sole job is transport. And to start arguing about “reverse net neutrality” is completely disingenuous, since no such thing exists. Once again, proponents of both sides of the net neutrality debate are badly missing the point, misinterpreting facts and making false statements — which doesn’t help anybody.

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Comments on “"Reverse Net Neutrality" The Latest Distraction”

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mattc says:

Re: All content available to everyone!

With that level of understanding, you’d be a great politician beholden to Big Telco…this refers to all people being able to access publicly available web content (sites, search engines, etc) without bandwidth restrictions imposed by ISP’s because the content creators wouldn’t pay premium fees to the telco. Sadly, the US government doesn’t work in the interest of citizens, just the billion dollar industries desperate for more money and power

d.l. says:

Actually this kind of strong-arming by ESPN is inimical to the goal of maintaining the end-to-end principle. Under the end-to-end principle, ESPN should enter a commercial relationship with individual end users, not intermediary ISPs. By promoting ISPs as content aggregators, ESPN is subverting the end-to-end principle. And insofar as that principle is the intellectual substructure for the idea of net neutrality, ESPN is, in some sense, violating net neutrality.

Alcibiades (user link) says:

ESPN's greedy, but not very smart

I have two points to make on this one:

Firstly, I agree with d.l.; the internet is about the end-user and individual, on-demand services. Furthermore, ESPN is supposedly about ‘the fan’ (crap, i know, but it’s part of their marketing strategy).

By forcing me, the individual, to market ESPN 360 to my ISP so I can watch it tells me that ESPN feels they’re too important to sign up subscribers one at a time, in the way in which the highly successful MLB.TV is structured. Instead, they want to grab huge hunks of cash in a single go, by forcing large companies to buy their product and distribute it to ANYONE on their network, meaning everyone pays for something only some people use.

Furthermore, colleges (one of the main ‘ISPs’ for the new, tech-using young generation) will never buy this service, so ESPN’s shooting themselves in the foot by leaving a major market untapped.

Secondly, well, ESPN screwed up with their security. Going to the following website (which includes a single get variable in the url string), lets you in as if you were on one of ESPN’s favored ISPs: http://static.espn.go.com/broadband/ebb2/360SiteRedesignStaging/index9.html?affiliate=affiliate

You might have to hold the ‘ctrl’ button while loading it, but you’ll get in, and be able to watch everything from the World Cup to PTI. So, if ESPN has decided to ignore the individual consumer, the individual consumer can now ignore ESPN (and their annoying whining about convincing your ‘video-deficient’ ISP to pay them). Find out how we found this flaw at http://www.vaskenhauri.com/blog/?p=64

Matt S (user link) says:

It is reverse non-neutrality, but that's OK...

ESPN is engaging in exactly what the pro-neutrality side has been fearing. It is not an end-user subscription model, it is a tug-of-war between content and infrastructure, which is the heart of the neutrality debate.

I spoke to George Ou about this today and told him that I assumed he was offering this as reductio ad absurdum — that he wanted to see if neutrality proponents were really interested in neutrality.

It turns out he is sincere — he is for neutrality enforcement in cases of clear, discriminatory abuse, and believes it should work both ways.

(That said, it is funny how neutrality advocates have discovered their free-market instincts on this.)

I agree that it will probably be a commercial failure in this case. But I am willing to see how the experiment plays out. The only way to find out what models bring benefits is to let the consumers cast the vote, not senators…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It is reverse non-neutrality, but that's OK...

Commercial failure? Right. Just like satellite radio. Stern fans flocked to it because it suddenly became the only place to get the content they wanted. Even though it required the purchase of a radio and a monthy fee for something they’d received for free just the week before. Peopole like that could care less about WHO provides the service or what shady deals were made to get it there. Some service will undoubtedly pop up and act as the middle-man to resell subscription content to users at a huge markup – all on “one bill!”. All that provider has to do is pay the tax to the ISPs so the paid-for content comes through.

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