Monday, December 04, 2006


Turning net neutrality upside-down

SportsnetOn Friday, the CRTC issued a broadcasting decision in a case that examined the terms for Bell Canada to carry a sports channel (Sportsnet) owned by its competitor, Rogers. I'm going to leave the merits of the case and the details of the resolution aside for now.

For the purpose of this discussion, the important point to glean from the decision is that the CRTC re-affirmed the principle that specialty channels - the content provider - cannot grant more favourable terms to an affiliated distributor. In this particular case, the CRTC determined, in effect, that Sportsnet's deal with Bell would need to be on terms "that are no less favourable than those accorded [Rogers Cable]."

It strikes me that a different twist on the net neutrality issue arises from this kind of decision.

We tend to think of net neutrality as seeking to ensure that ISPs don't engage in bit-boinking - degrading the traffic of content providers that refuse to pay for protection. Is there a corollary that examines whether content providers can or should deny an ISP access to their content on equivalent terms to other ISPs?

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I quite like the approach that Britain's Ofcom is taking to the whole net neutrality issue, suggesting that it's an issue that belongs into the realm of competition law and not Internet/telco regulation:

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The regulator seems set on a hands-off attitude, leaving content providers to negotiate premium deals with access providers if they want, while giving them the option of using competition law if they feel they're being turned over.

"I do see competition law as the answer to many of the issues," [Ofcom chairman Lord Currie] said.

Speaking to El Reg after the debate, he added that the crucial point was whether providers were attempting to force content providers to pay. A content provider going to a service provider and asking for a guaranteed level of service was OK, he said. Access providers strong arming content providers into paying, was not.

It seems to me that idea would also work in reverse, i.e. in the case citied here.
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