A Brief Glimpse Into A Non-Neutral Network Future

Dave Zatz —  October 17, 2010

Thanks to Hulu, an obvious studio pawn acting on Fox’s direction, we got a brief glimpse into what a non-neutral network future might look like. As you’ve probably read (or possibly experienced) Cablevision and Fox-parent News Corp are renegotiating retransmission terms. And, as Mari suggested last week, these battles have gotten nasty. With the current dust up resulting in a total Fox television blackout for New York Cablevision customers. To exert additional leverage, Fox/News Corp took the battle to a different medium by presumably, selectively blocking regional Cablevision network addresses from accessing Fox content on Hulu.com.

Some choice quotes from Multichannel News

Public Knowledge: “Blocking Web sites is totally out of bounds in a dispute like this.”

Free Press: “This discrimination against Cablevision high-speed Internet customers is particularly egregious because all other online viewers who do not purchase any cable television service currently have unfettered access to Hulu and Fox.com content.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve called Hulu out on these sorts of practices. Although, when I wondered where Hulu would draw the line, we went ’round and ’round the comments discussing what exactly ‘net neutrality‘ is… and how it might be abused. I’m not sure we’ve found that line yet, but some at Hulu or News Corp apparently decided they weren’t quite ready to open this particular can of worms, as online access was restored within a few hours yesterday. However, I give them credit for mentally preparing us for the possible dynamics of a non-neutral network future.

15 responses to A Brief Glimpse Into A Non-Neutral Network Future

  1. I am a cablevision subscriber. Obviously I lost FOX TV yesterday (couldn’t watch the Phillies/Giants game and will possibly lose the Giants NFL game today). However, I have no issues accessing Hulu or Fox programming on Hulu (and I use Cablevisions internet service).

  2. Another view on this is even if you don’t buy Cablevision TV service but do buy Internet service you could be cut off for something that doesn’t concern you at all. Although according to Damian above Hulu’s IP source based blocking might not be very accurate.

  3. Damian, it sounds like it was a brief outage before logic (or fear) prevailed. However, I don’t live in your region so I can’t/didn’t confirm first hand. Given the widespread coverage from reputable sources, I posted this as a factual piece. Perhaps online service had been restored when you checked, or as Brian suggests, maybe they didn’t have all the IP ranges?

  4. I know I checked last night and I just checked again this morning, and in both instances I still had access to Hulu (I played the Simpsons and Family Guy). Sorry, I wasn’t questioning the accuracy of your post, more of a view that it may not be affecting everyone as of yet.

    My theory, this is a conspiracy by all the bar owners. Since most bars use DirecTV for football if cablevision customers still have no access this afternoon the bars will be packed with NY Giant fans!!!

  5. “Thanks to Hulu, an obvious studio pawn acting on Fox’s direction, we got a brief glimpse into what a non-neutral network future might look like.”

    While the charming Murdoch clan is always the one who is first willing to employ the nuclear option in any given quarrel, this ought to give us all a pretty clear glimpse at why the Comcast/NBC merger is such a psychotically bad idea from the perspective of the common good…

    —–

    Big picture aside, I do find it infinitely amusing that the best quote about the maneuver was this:

    “But while the move is certain to rile up the digerati (astonished industry executive to me, over the phone, just now: “that is crazy!) I’m not sure how much real impact it will have in the fight.”

    The amusement comes from the fact that it’s a Murdoch blogger, and his name is Kafka.

    And it was crazy. It didn’t help Fox in their retrans dispute. It just gave everyone notice of how high the net-neutrality stakes really are.

  6. A glimpse of our potential dystopian future from Engadget:

    “Hulu PR told All Things D that it “remained neutral” by blocking only Fox content on Hulu, so it’s not like the entire service was pulled.”

    Who cares about net neutrality when we’ve got assurances of temporary Hulu neutrality?

  7. I thought net neutrality was about the pipe owners not being allowed to show bias in the delivery of the bits. in this case it is a media content owner blocking certain users based on what pipe owner they have because of said dispute with the pipe owner. how is this different from Hulu blocking non USA folks, boxee or Googletv. if cablevision doesn’t want to agree to carriage fees for Fox content, why should there be the loop hole to allow them access to said content via the web? sure internet only customers are collateral damage in this, but the tactic makes sense if Fox is trying to exert as much pressure on cablevision to agree to the Fox terms.

  8. That’s the traditional and more narrow view… which I don’t subscribe to. I’m more liberal with the terminology and implications. But maybe “anti-competitive” is a better descriptor. (The last time I brought this up, I did specifically call out platform/browser segregation as an infraction.) For me, this punitive and unrelated action is very different than the regional licensing restrictions that you mention or ABC negotiating deals with ISPs to provide ESPN3 online. And it’s compounded because Hulu has their own customer base (Plus, $10/mo) – who obviously take a back seat to their studio puppet masters.

  9. “I thought net neutrality was about the pipe owners not being allowed to show bias in the delivery of the bits.”

    This is actually an accurate point.

    The problem here is not truly one of network neutrality.

    The problem here is why Hulu is permitted to legally exist. It is beyond me why a majority of the content companies are allowed to legally set up a cartel to control the distribution of their product.

  10. “For me, this punitive and unrelated action is very different than … ABC negotiating deals with ISPs to provide ESPN3 online.”

    Why?

    This feels different, since it’s the first real glimpse of Hulu’s multifaceted agenda. But how is Fox tying IP delivery to agreements with ISP’s truly any different than Disney tying IP delivery to agreements with ISP’s?

    I’ve been disturbed by the ESPN3 direction precisely because it’s pioneering this particular path. If the Feds don’t set up some rules of the road, “over-the-top” is going to be stillborn.

    ——

    Instead of rallying under the “net neutrality” banner, we ought to be rallying under the “regulated, commodity, dumb pipes” banner…

  11. Hm, not sure that would fit into the title/subject field… ;)

    This feels different because the Starbucks across the street from a Cablevision home doesn’t have a deal in place with News Corp, yet folks can watch Fox content on Hulu. Same as the Verizon neighbor across the street from the Cablevision subscriber. But maybe it’s not different and maybe it’s all perfectly acceptable (for now, until challenged?). Regardless, I think we’re in agreement that it’s a scary future to contemplate. We the paying consumers don’t have a whole lot of leverage in the equation. And I question the strength of our representation in these matters. As ZNF regular Todd has brought up on numerous occasions, the balance of power is skewed and in no way is this an equal relationship.

  12. I guess it is their content and if they want to take their ball and go home it is their right. sure it threatens to piss off the end user, but it is a service they are providing, but in no way have to. so if they want to cut off their nose to spite their face it is their choice. they get to decide what content they release on DVD, what content they stream and we as consumers get to choose what we want to pay for, watch with ad support or what we jut bittorrent.

  13. “And I question the strength of our representation in these matters.”

    I continue to think your pessimism on the recent CableCARD decision is misplaced. Current management of the FCC has only been in place for about a year. And the recent decision reaffirmed their intent to see the 1996 law actually enforced.

    It all means the cableco’s are going to have a very short window to make tuning adapters work reliably, or they’ll find themselves with the IP backchannel actually mandated upon them.

    Last week’s decision wasn’t a total victory, but it was the first step toward a victory.

    —–

    “Regardless, I think we’re in agreement that it’s a scary future to contemplate. We the paying consumers don’t have a whole lot of leverage in these equations.”

    Well, that’s why we have a government.

    There are big regulatory challenges coming. Hopefully, there are enough financial players with an interest in a “dumb pipe” future to help the folks who have an interest in the common good actually create such a future.

    (Of course, that’s why things like the Comcast/NBC merger are so pernicious. If the “pipe companies” become part of larger conglomerates, it creates a zaibatsu-style system that is more resistant to regulation.)

  14. This situation immediately led me to thoughts of the NFL and MLB exclusive broadcast rights and the fact that the stadiums are often subsidized in many ways by taxpayers. Also had me thinking about OTA tv. Why is cablevision paying hundreds of millions for something broadcast OTA already?

  15. Chucky, it’s not just their will I question, it’s their legislative capabilities. We seem collectively more litigious than 1996 and these guys have deep pockets. The Comcast/Bittorrent thing was enlightening…

    Jeremy, the tax-payer funded stadiums with league blackout restrictions (along with MNF moving to cable) has always puzzled me.