Showtime, HBO Working With ISPs To Make Their Streaming Services Cap Exempt

from the here-we-go dept

As we just got done saying, while the new net neutrality rules are certainly a great step forward, there are probably more questions than answers in terms of just how far the FCC will be willing to go when it comes to policing anti-competitive behavior. For example, while the agency says it will keep on eye on "interconnection" fights, we won't know what the FCC will determine as "anti-competitive" until we see the agency act. Similarly, while numerous countries including Canada, The Netherlands, Chile, Slovenia and Norway all have neutrality protections that outright ban "zero rated" apps (letting apps bypass user caps), the FCC so far seems to think zero rating is perfectly ok.

That's potentially a problem, given the bad precedents set by programs like AT&T's Sponsored Data and T-Mobile's Music Freedom, which the FCC has indicated are ok under their interpretation of the rules. These programs profess to be boons to the consumer, yet by their very nature automatically disadvantage smaller internet players. As such, the future of neutrality involves violations accompanied by skilled sales pitches that result in consumers not understanding -- or in some cases even cheering -- when the idea of net neutrality is compromised.

First case in point is HBO and Showtime, which appear eager to determine just where the FCC intends to draw the line. According to a new report in the Wall Street Journal, both companies are working closely with ISPs on deals that would not only give their upcoming streaming video services delivery priority, but would exempt them from carrier usage caps:
"Those companies have talked to major broadband providers such as Comcast Corp. about having their Web TV services treated as “managed” services, according to people familiar with the discussions. In effect, that would move them away from the congestion of the Internet, which they fear will only get worse as more people opt to stream movies and TV shows on the Web.

The other benefit: A separate lane would be exempt from monthly data-usage thresholds operators enforce for public Internet traffic, saving customers from the surcharges that can kick in if they binge on too many episodes of “Game of Thrones” or “Homeland."
The article's descriptions of things like "managed services" and "special treatment" are phrased so ambiguously I get the impression the Journal's reporters may not have fully understood what their sources were telling them. However, there's no ambiguity to the idea that Showtime and HBO are interested in having their content specifically made exempt from what are already arbitrary usage caps. The article proceeds to note that Comcast, with a merger awaiting regulatory approval, is nervous about running afoul of the FCC. Dish Network, meanwhile, makes it clear they'd see such a deal as a neutrality violation:
"At least one emerging online TV player, Dish Network Corp.’s Sling TV, believes the managed-service arrangement would be a negative overall. “It’s a bad thing for consumers and a bad thing for innovation,” said Roger Lynch, Sling TV’s chief executive, adding that big companies like Dish could afford to cut special deals like this but small companies can’t. "It makes a mockery of net neutrality,” he said, adding that Sling would strike such a deal only “under duress,” if other companies did first."
So again, while our new net neutrality rules are certainly a solid step forward, until we see what the FCC specifically determines is a violation -- and how the consumer complaint process will work -- it's hard to tell just how effective they're going to be. If it's ok for T-Mobile to exempt the biggest music services as part of its Music Freedom plan, is it ok for ISPs to similarly exempt Showtime and HBO from their usage caps? Where exactly is the line going to be drawn? The rules don't specifically say, but they won't be worth much if the FCC considers usage caps and "pay to play" cap bypass schemes just innovative market pricing.

Filed Under: data caps, exempt, fcc, hbo, managed services, net neutrality, picking winners and losers, showtime, streaming, video streaming, zero rating
Companies: hbo, showtime


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2015 @ 8:56am

    Re: Re: Re: Not sure I oppose zero rating

    Here's the rub: Although the end result is the same, TECHNICALLY they aren't degrading service. They are purposely allowing the service to be degraded naturally via negligence by not upgrading the switches and routers that handle traffic to their users for peering agreements in order to try to force content providers to either route the traffic through metered switches that handle traffic for providers that have transport agreements or negotiate special direct connection agreements for the traffic so that they can be paid twice for it.

    To belabor the road analogy: Imagine a city that decides to only do the bare maintenance on it's freeways in order to force people to use more toll roads (where they make money from tax dollar allocations as well as paying users instead of just the tax money) that are always kept in tip top shape. It's not like they are purposely going out and making potholes in the existing freeways though.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.