Spurred on by some coverage in The New York Times
and Wall Street Journal
, there's been some buzz about ESPN360
, the cable channel's broadband video service. ESPN has chosen not to sell access to the site to end users, but rather to ISPs, who then offer free access to their customers. Much of the furor
has echoed previous silliness about ESPN committing some sort of "reverse net neutrality"
offense by determining just who could access their content. But, just like before, equating this situation to net neutrality isn't right. The crux of the net neutrality debate is about ISPs wanting to control the content their customers can access. What's going on here is a content provider determining who can access its content and an appropriate business model -- as content providers have always done. This is every content provider's right -- since unlike the telcos, they're not abusing a long history of government support
-- whether they want to use a paywall
, limit access to people in certain areas, or just publish freely. Whether the business model is a sound one is another discussion, but it's certainly well within ESPN's rights to sell its service this way.
In any case, there are more interesting angles to this story. First is the fact that broadband ISPs are actually looking to compete -- in whatever small way -- and attract users by offering them this exclusive content. This would actually appear to be a tacit admission that content providers make ISPs' networks valuable, undermining the telcos' net neutrality position. But more interesting is the reaction of some cable companies' frosty reactions to ESPN 360, objecting to the business model. The WSJ writes an exec from Cox says paying for the service would "saddle its customers with unnecessary costs, because they will inadvertently be paying for a service they may not want when they sign up for broadband." That's sort of funny, considering that's exactly how they sell cable channels -- pay for a bunch you don't want to get the ones you do.