I pointed out last week that the proponents of government imposed “net neutrality” are starting, hopefully, to appreciate that there is a “flip side” to many of their arguments when other policy issues are debated. The same countries they point to as “models” for promoting broadband are now also proposing government restrictions on Internet use for games, advertising, gambling and the like. A “free, open Internet”? Not as easy as it is to say.
The FCC’s release of it’s latest Notice of Inquiry on a technical proposal to promote the use of broadband for video distribution, the “AllVid” idea, once again raises some fascinating policy issues. Forget the technology for a moment, that’s not the point. Let’s assume the underlying objective was achieved and “broadband” became an integrated, “over the top” (I really don’t like that term, but since everyone seems to now use it, so will I) form of video delivery.
Let’s go even further. Let’s assume that the objective in fact was to achieve, by technical requirements, what has not been accomplished by other policy efforts; a dis-aggregation of channel delivery by cable. A la carte. A “smart video” technology that allows consumers to create their own program guides and “select” from a variety of video sources, merging them on the screen. Obviously this would change most business models and would lead to an entirely new set of models for video distribution. Hopefully these new models would be more successful, economically, than what has happened in the music business, but let’s assume that’s the case. Now what?
Well, here comes the “flip side” of that dream proposed by those who see broadband “OTT” and “net neutrality” as the ultimate goals: What happens to things like the Emergency Alert System? Do we require it to be on the Internet feeds as well, or do we restrict tornado warnings just to local broadcast and cable channels? We could just hope that “over the top” “smart video” viewers somehow get the word before the tornado hits. Alternatively, how would you expand EAS to broadband? The Internet is not location-centric and neither are the network access points that deliver ISP data. The only way to localize the emergency notices would be through knowing exactly where the signals were all going… and the only way to do that would be through “deep packet inspection”.. anathema to the “net neutrality” folks.
So how does all this work if the grand objective of a free flow of video from everywhere comes to pass? What about “lowest unit charge” requirements on political advertising? Will the video “speech” on the broadband delivered “OTT” channels be restricted, conditioned or monitored the way broadcast and increasingly cable channels are (think children’s advertising rules, for instance.) Do we put a requirement for a “V-Chip” or its successor on all new “smart” devices, including computers of course, and then require that all “video” on the Internet have encoded content flags? If so, who enforces those rules? Who decides if one program (a YouTube segment?) is PG or X-rated and requires an appropriate flag before it can be sent over broadband? And then there’s the question of jurisdiction.
The bottom line here is most folks haven’t thought through yet what happens to “net neutrality” and the concepts that lie behind it if the other objective, of “promoting broadband” and “OTT” delivery of multichannel video, really succeeds. They may, in fact, be the “flip side” of each other when considering whether the broadband Internet is heavily regulated or allowed to be “free”.