Sports Streaming is Safe Today Thanks to FCC Decision

The long-fought fight to keep the Internet as free (as in speech, not beer) and open as possible gained a very significant victory today, as the FCC ruled in a 3-2 decision to implement strict net neutrality rules and reclassify Internet service offerings as a Title II service. This ostensibly means that Internet services will be classified much like utilities are now, and therefor can’t be subject to the general bandwidth and pricing shenanigans that have begun to crop up.  Unless you own an ISP, you can consider this a victory.

The ruling prohibits carriers from strong-arming content providers into ponying up more money to make sure their product reaches consumers. Before today, an ISP — let’s call them Fomfast for the sake of argument — could look at all the traffic that a streaming service like NBA League Pass was carrying across their wires and decide that they were taking up far too many resources to not have to pay a premium. Fomfast would then tell the NBA folks to pay them a fee of some kind, lest they wish their streams to be throttled, creating a poor experience for the customer. This has already happened with Netflix, and could have very well happened to services like League Pass, MLB.tv, FOX Sports GO, WatchESPN, etc. without today’s ruling. What transpired today means less cost for the providers, which means (hopefully) less cost for you.

In an interesting turn, the FCC widened the scope of their ruling to include mobile providers, so while it will still count toward your data cap, you should be able to stream soccer matches on your phone without throttling or slow-down problems.

We talk a lot about streaming sports online on these electronic pages, but in truth, a lot of the services and sites we mention could have looked (and cost) a great deal differently without similar governance in place. There would have been nothing stopping Fomfast or Fime Farner from holding our sports streams hostage in a pixelated prison until the leagues decided to let the providers in on the action.

The Internet has been such a large part of our lives for quite some time. It seems silly that it took this long for this kind of decision to be made. But at least it happened. And in a rare instance, a U.S. governing body made a decision about something before it became a really big problem. It’s a little sad that what seemed like such a no-brainer garnered two “no” votes, but fair-headedness won out in the end.

And just in time for baseball/MLB.tv season. What joy.

(Image via William F. Yurasko)

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David G. Temple is the Managing Editor of TechGraphs and a contributor to FanGraphs, NotGraphs and The Hardball Times. He hosts the award-eligible podcast Stealing Home. Dayn Perry once called him a "Bible Made of Lasers." Follow him on Twitter @davidgtemple.

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Paul G.
Guest
Paul G.

Uh, do we still know what they voted on? It was not revealed to the public before the vote and while the regulations may be available now I haven’t seen them yet. Might be out there somewhere.

Kinda hard to describe something a “no-brainer” when you don’t know what it is.

Paul G.
Guest
Paul G.

To follow up, I have confirmation that even after voting for the rules, the rules are still secret. Apparently it will take another few weeks before we get to see them.

John Thacker
Guest
John Thacker

” therefor can’t be subject to the general bandwidth and pricing shenanigans that have begun to crop up. ”

Do you know that the order covers interconnection, which was the origin of the recent dispute? (Netflix shifted a great amount of their traffic from smaller CDNs that were paying money to Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T to Level 3, which was not (as a Tier 1) as well as their own OpenConnect CDN. It had nothing to do with throttling once traffic reached inside the ISPs networks, but at the interconnection points.) Do you know that it covers pricing for interconnection, or necessarily sets it at zero? Note that Level 3 and Cogent charge money for interconnection from smaller ISPs like Cox just as larger ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon try to charge money from Level 3 and Cogent. (That’s a large part of the reason that smaller ISPs are happy to sign up for Netflix’s owned and operated OpenConnect CDN, to avoid chargers from Level3 and Cogent.) Networks paying for metered transit between each other is commonplace and longstanding, before these disputes that occurred when Level 3 underbid Netflix’s previous CDN provider.

If it doesn’t regulate interconnection, then occasional disputes will continue as they always have. If it does regulate interconnection, there’s no guarantee that the rule adopted will automatically be a zero cost. It is difficult to predict these things– back in the day, Congress banned cable operators from demanding money from broadcast stations to carry them, since it was expected that cable operators would have the leverage for the reasons offered. What has happened in reality is that the money has flowed the other direction from expected, as broadcast stations have demanded retransmission fees (passed on to consumers), despite the cable operators’ local monopoly status.

Another equally valid way of looking at it is that it allows Comcast, Time Warner, and everybody else to continue to have special fast lanes for video (called cable service) and voice (called telephone service) as their “triple play” packages, but they will not be allowed to sell access to a similar level of service.