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App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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March 11, 2008 1:29 PM

ESPN Violating Net Neutrality?

My future brother-in-law made an intriguing remark the other day: Doesn’t ESPN 360 violate net neutrality?

As background, ESPN 360 is a package of live and on-demand video that ESPN sells to broadband providers who can then offer it as a value-added service to their subscribers.

The dilemma is that the only way you can get the content is if you’re subscribed to a broadband provider who’s paid for the ESPN 360 service.

Having recently completed a whole week of posts on net neutrality, I started in on an in-depth explanation of the nuances to this debate. But in the end, I couldn’t bring myself to refute his initial assertion that ESPN 360 violates the spirit of net neutrality, at least in its broadest, most vague definition.

In a sense, it does discriminate based on the origin and destination of content. Before sending any video, it knows that you’re trying to access it from the right network, in other words the network that has paid to make that content available.

What I don’t known is whether or not broadband provider partners of ESPN prioritize ESPN 360 traffic in any way to get a higher level of quality of service, but I’m going to work on finding out.

Of course, this is all a bit of an exaggeration. I don’t think any advocate of net neutrality would advocate for exclusive services like ESPN 360 to be outlawed. But that said, I think this misunderstanding by a relative layperson--my brother-in-law was one of the first to get an iPhone, but his interests lie in medicine rather than broadband--exemplifies how muddied the net neutrality message has become.

We’ve reached the point where net neutrality means everything from preserving free speech to protecting the rights of small companies to operate freely on the Internet to defending the rights of consumers. The problem is that by making the concept so big and amorphous, it obfuscates the real questions that need to be answered, and in so doing leaves the general public confused as to what net neutrality actually means.

The point I will continue to harp on in this blog is that content owners and applications developers working with network operators is not a bad thing, so long as those relationships don’t turn predatory against companies that rely on the open Internet and don’t infringe on the rights of consumers.

Perhaps by refocusing on more specific issues we can continue to make progress forward on finding a solution amenable to all parties involved. Otherwise, I fear continuing confusion over what net neutrality is will engender resentment from consumers towards totally legitimate products like ESPN 360.


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