Thursday, November 05, 2009

Net Neutrality and Online Sports Media

With the FCC entering a public comment period on the subject of Network Neutrality, I’ve been thinking, “What would a repeal of Network Neutrality mean for online sports media?” If you’re not familiar with the concept of Net Neutrality take just two minutes to watch this video from (it’s actually kind of entertaining).

So, let’s imagine--without the principle of Net Neutrality--how a telecom company might make bandwidth decisions concerning specific content. Take the Internet provider Comcast and their ownership of Were the guiding principle of Network Neutrality to be removed, Comcast could restrict the bandwidth for consumers accessing sites that are competitors of Versus. Consumers using, for instance, might have their bandwidth reduced to a level that would make its multi-media offerings incommensurate with Comcast-owned sites.

However, the telecom industry is oligopolistic, meaning that consumers are limited in their choice of services to just a few large corporations. The telecom companies know better than to engage in cutthroat (i.e. genuine) competition. Restricting consumer access to a competitor’s Web site would only result in the same being done to their own. Instead, as an oligopoly, they’d prefer to squabble for market share and erect huge barriers to entry. By doing so they can actually secure near-monopoly-level profits while keeping up the façade of competition (think: Oil, Health Insurance).

Unfortunately for the sports media consumer (not to mention consumers of other cultural content), such arrangements often result in a lack of diverse content. Mainstream media outlets and major sports leagues would be able to leverage their large audiences and associations with telecom companies to make sure that the online experience for their digital offerings remains far superior to niche or marginal sports media outlets and organizations, including those of women’s and Olympic sports. A further possibility is that access to these niche sites could be walled off and restricted to subscription access. It’s one thing for a niche sports site to choose to direct its readership toward subscription-based content. It’s quite another thing if the telecom companies control the subscription system, access, and resulting revenue.

Sports and sports media are more democratic (small d) because of the Internet and the principle of Net Neutrality. The FCC should act in the public interest to promote competition, diversity and localism by standing behind Net Neutrality. This is an important protection for sports fans, sports media outlets, and sports organizations... not to mention businesses, organizations, consumers and citizens.

To get more involved in this issue, check out SavetheInternet, this informative update on the subject by Daily Kos, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, this FCC Blog where you can weight in on the matter...

--T.C. Corrigan

No comments: