No, I’m not talking about the industry re-focusing on video. I think a discussion needs to be launched about something even more basic than that; the fact that the infrastructure we have built is privately financed and privately owned. It seems more and more folks are losing sight of that as they tell us what programs we should be running on our video channels, on what tiers, for what prices and how we should manage our network with regard to data and voice services.
Hey, these are our networks, built exclusively with private capital, and we pay rent to use the rights of way on which they are in part built. There seems to be a growing sentiment that what the cable industry has created is somehow owned, or at least rightfully controlled by the government. It’s time to remind everyone that that’s not true.
Sure, we have to comply with laws, rules and regulations relating to intellectual property, consumer protection and the like, but where is it written that the government has the right to tell a private network how it must be managed? The issue of so-called “network neutrality” comes to mind. I would concede that we, like every other business, have to comply with the antitrust laws, but I don’t think anyone is really arguing that we are violating those laws. Instead, demands are being made on the way we operate our networks, the manner in which we offer service, and the proposition seems to be that we are a utility.
Again, back to basics; cable is not a public utility. There are several significant competitors in the marketplace offering similar services, and the government is just about to help launch another one with the completion of the 700 Mhz auctions. We are not an “essential facility” or common carrier either.
So what’s this all about? Well, the current brouhaha is about network management as it relates to so-called peer-to-peer applications for computers. Applications like BitTorrent are designed to eat up as much of our (please note; OUR) bandwidth as it can so that computers can talk to each other and distribute large amounts of data, mostly at this time video files. Actually, to be accurate, mostly unauthorized distribution of such files. The estimates are that between 80 to 90% of the P2P activity eating into the efficiency of our networks is of programming that is being purloined.
What can we do about it? Some operators have slowed down the P2P applications, only when there is congestion so all customers continue to get good service. That’s what’s being decried now as “discrimination.” But let’s get something straight: this is our network and we have every right to discriminate if we choose to do so! Yes, I would agree, we have to make it very clear to customers that we are doing it, just as some broadcasters, for instance, announce that they will only show “family” programming. That, too, is discrimination. We could also bar folks who we notify are using too much bandwidth, or institute “metered use,” or identify and filter unauthorized content. But we haven’t done that, yet. Note also, we choose to offer ISP service, we could just as easily choose not to.
The industry, so far, has simply used network management tools that don’t stop anyone from using any application, but slow them so everyone gets an equal chance at the bandwidth. If we are stopped from doing that, the other remedies will have to be instituted. Beware of what you ask for!