If regulators sign off on it, the nation’s largest cable company will end up with a significant foothold in both the broadcast media and movie industries. Overnight, a content distributor becomes a content producer. Pre-merger, Comcast had little incentive to play along with the copyright cop ambitions of the RIAA and MPAA. This merger could change everything, driving Comcast into policing not just the distribution of its own wares but those of fellow studios.
Given how Time Warner Cable would regularly roll over for MPAA requests to disconnect service, both before and after being spun off from parent company Time Warner, this is a legitimate and pressing concern. The MPAA spends a lot of time trying to track down pirates and they often get the wrong person. The MPAA has also pushed hard for restricting what DVRs can record, locking down digital media to the point of near-uselessness, and wiping out net neutrality so that peer-to-peer programs can be blocked on a whim. None of these proposals are good for Comcast data or video customers and I do not think Comcast wants to unnecessarily restrict what customers can and cannot do with their connection.
That said, what will they do when Universal Pictures, a division of the merged company, has a competing interest? Which part of the company has their interests heard first? Will Comcast give Universal special access to routers and logs to track down pirates? Will they start using deep packet inspection? What can the falsely accused do about it?
This is why we should be very, very scared of the continued integration of media and telecommunications companies. The verticial monopoly of wholesale and retail telecom is bad enough, but when they control the content going over the pipe as well, it can get really ugly really fast.
Between visiting family in Sacramento for Thanksgiving and a business trip to Montreal (where the hotel apparently didn’t believe in reliable Internet service), I got a bit behind on the Broadband Bytes feature. Never fear: I’ll make it up to you with a special double feature to get caught up on the previous two weeks.
A recent study shows that 18% of HDTV owners can’t tell the difference between standard and HD programming. This may be why DirecTV can get away with claiming over 150 HD channels when they include 480p digital broadcasts. Also of interest is that 38% of all HDTV buyers are motivated by a broken/old TV set or are buying an additional set. A scant 22% bought their set for the better picture quality. There’s also a significant number of people who won’t upgrade to an HD set until well after the digital cut-off in February. Standard-definition video will be a significant player for some time to come.
It’s no wonder subscribers are shedding video packages. Price increases have been as regular as Yellowstone’s Old Faithful with Comcast, Time Warner and Bell Canada continuing to jack up the rate you pay. Qwest has decided to go in the other direction and extend their $15/mo offering (1.5Mbps/YourGuessIsAsGoodAsMineKbps). Comcast also upped the speeds on their value tier (from 768K/128K to 1M/384K), but it’s not as competitive as Qwest’s offering and was a direct response to Verizon making the same speed changes. Consumers are taking it into their own hands and finding ways to negotiate lower rates with thier providers. The French, however, are laughing all the way to the bank. Fierce competition has resulted in a triple-play package with 100Mbps data, VoIP and 120 channels of video for $38/mo.
Verizon continues to draw blood by not-quite-overbuilding AT&T U-Verse service areas. If the incumbents get into a full-scale war for customers down in Texas, you can bet consumers will be the winners. In other overbuilding news, it seems that BPL isn’t quite dead yet. While it’s a poor choice for end-to-end connectivity, it shows promise as the last mile of a FTTN system. With speeds of up to 400Mbps, it could very well spur even fiercer competiion.
The FCC is still trying to push a nationwide porn-free wireless network. The latest incarnation allows adults to opt out of the filtering, but, as usual, pretty much everybody is going home unhappy and nobody knows how the carrier that will eventually operate the network can end up turning a profit.