Tag Archives: Internet service provider

Legalized Discrimination

I work with a number of startup companies, as I’ve mentioned before. There are a whole host of issues that these newbies face but one they don’t, if they’re digital, is the same sort of access to their potential audiences as is enjoyed by their much larger, entrenched competition. The reason for this is an underlying principle of the Internet which is that all traffic – those little packets of information that carry data, pictures, sound, etc. – is handled equally, both by the “backbone” companies responsible for transport and by your Internet Service Provider. You know – the folks (or folks, if you have a cable provider that provides internet access and a wireless company) to whom you send a check each month in return for the ability to send cat videos to your friends.

The reason for this post is to call your attention to the increasingly loud noises out of DC about giving those ISPs the ability to discriminate. Three years ago, John Oliver did a fantastic job of explaining why this issue is important and last Friday night, he did so again. Why did he need to? Because rules that were put in place to protect everyone are being changed.

Suppose you watch those cat videos on three different video platforms: YouTube, Vimeo, and a startup called CatVideosRule. You notice that the first two are crystal clear and in full high-def, while the last takes forever to load, buffers a lot, and isn’t very clear. It’s likely that the reason for that isn’t that the startup is using bad technology but that your ISP is prioritizing traffic. Maybe they are getting fees from YouTube and Vimeo. Maybe they don’t like cat videos and are slowing down the startup. The reason doesn’t matter. What does is that it’s discrimination and it’s going to be legal. In my mind, once ISPs get to pick and choose, it’s not a big step for them to begin censoring the content as well. You know: if you want to be on our network at full speed you will not criticize us, etc.

The new head of the FCC is suggesting that we just ask the ISPs to promise they’ll play nice. These are the same ISPs that promised you 50MB speed and deliver 30MB with no fee adjustment or apology. We are already seeing some services become “zero-rated”, which means that using them doesn’t count against any data plan you may have. It’s bad enough that the ISPs are boosting their own services at the expense of others. Legalizing another form of discrimination could be the death knell of one of the things that have fostered the dynamic, disruptive growth of our digital world. Do you agree? Are you following this story?

Leave a comment

Filed under digital media, Huh?

Some Important News You Might Have Missed And Why You Should Care

There was a bit of news that broke last week which you might have missed since it seems that the election drowns most other news out. The FCC told Internet Service Providers to be much more explicit concerning what information it collects and shares with others, and provide (mostly) clear “opt-in” requirements on some of that data collection. Hopefully, you realize that more than any other entity in the digital age your ISP (and that can be your wireless provider as well) know pretty much everything you do on the internet.

Not surprisingly, there were immediate outcries from both the broadband providers as well as from the Association of National Advertisers. “The FCC’s new sweeping privacy rules decision is unprecedented, misguided, counterproductive, and potentially extremely harmful,” the advertisers’ organization said in a statement.

This comes on the heels of Google changing their policy related to how it connects DoubleClick advertising to other data that it has about you, allowing the company to actually link your name and other identifying information to you as you surf the web. The real issue is that Google isn’t being very clear about how this information is going to be used. At leat, however, they do give you the ability to opt-out and to clear your history. Your ISP gives you no such option. Be that as it may, having to opt out is far different from granting permission by having opted in.

Obviously, the ad industry is upset because less useful data means diminished ability to track and target consumers. Having spent a career in the media business I know that this could be bad for content providers as well as marketers. But I can’t understand why explaining clearly and transparently what you’re collecting and why as well as allowing consumers control over how their data is collected and used is a bad idea. Failing to do so leads to ad blocking or worse.

What could be worse? Check out Sudo. As this article explains it, Sudo allows you to create:

nine “virtual identities,” each of which is associated with a phone number, email address, credit card number, and even profile picture. They’re digital nom de guerres, in essence — fictional profiles for services, websites, and apps to which you’d rather not supply your personal information…Sudos live as long as you want. You can delete one after a week, or devote a profile to activities like online shopping, social networking, or calling.

That, in my mind, is worse. Data is collected and associated with a false person who just disappears. So if I decide to label myself as a 35-year-old woman (which is quite different from my much older male self), marketers will waste money promoting products to me I won’t care about. When I get sick of that persona, I’ll disappear her.

Being transparent and honest with your customers isn’t optional anymore. You can fight legislation but fighting consumer desires is much harder. I suspect that the ISP’s will get around these rules by burying the information they’re forced to disclose in some click-wrap agreement. Nobody reads them; they just click “agree” and move on. I think this is a missed opportunity for the ISP’s to change their behavior, their business model, and their relationship with their customers. You?

Leave a comment

Filed under digital media, What's Going On

Idiotic Injecting

No one that I know enjoys going to the doctor and getting an injection. Whether it’s as simple as a flu shot or something more complex such as a regimen of allergy shots, it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience. 

Today’s topic is an injection of another sort, but the experience isn’t enjoyable either. It turns out that AT&T has jumped on the “no free lunch” bandwagon with respect to offering wireless hotspots to its customers. A Stanford computer scientist and lawyer was travelling and discovered that the AT&T hotspot to which he had connected was serving ads over web pages he was accessing. When he went to Stanford’s home page, for instance (a page that has zero ads on it), he saw a pop-up ad for jewelry and AT&T itself, and the ads persisted for several seconds until he could close them.

He discovered that the ISP was tampering with HTTP traffic – that’s what serves web pages. It is using a service from a third party to inject the ads and to monetize the traffic. AT&T is far from the first “free” service to do this – Comcast and Marriott are just two others. But as the professor wrote:

AT&T has an (understandable) incentive to seek consumer-side income from its free wifi service, but this model of advertising injection is particularly unsavory. Among other drawbacks: It exposes much of the user’s browsing activity to an undisclosed and untrusted business. It clutters the user’s web browsing experience. It tarnishes carefully crafted online brands and content, especially because the ads are not clearly marked as part of the hotspot service. And it introduces security and breakage risks, since website developers generally don’t plan for extra scripts and layout elements.

In other words, while you might have accepted that as your ISP the folks at AT&T will see and record everything that you’re doing, you might be concerned about an outside company doing so.  Moreover, as a publisher, your beautiful content environment is now sullied by ads from which you derive zero revenue.

If you’re on an AT&T hotspot, you’re already an AT&T customer.  I don’t believe you can log on if you’re not and you’re probably paying them handsomely each month (I know I am).  This sort of nickel and diming might help revenues (I wonder how much in the scheme of things) but it doesn’t help with customer satisfaction. That’s a point from which any business can learn.  Idiotic injection from my perspective.  Yours?

Leave a comment

Filed under digital media, Huh?

Data Collection Matters

There was a piece on MediaPost about how the broadband providers and their trade associations have gone to court to prevent the FCC from imposing some of the new rules on how those providers may behave. The specific ones upon which I’m focused today are the ones concerning privacy and data collection. The article explains the issue nicely:

They specifically complain that the FCC’s decision to treat broadband as a utility also empowers the agency to impose privacy rules that could curb its behavioral advertising efforts, which involve targeting ads to users based on the Web sites they visit.

“Today, broadband providers can lawfully use information about customers’ Internet access services and usage to develop customized marketing programs that benefit both the provider and its customers,” AT&T and the others say in their court papers.

On the surface, maybe they have a point.  After all, many of us prefer to see targeted ads and as someone who has made a living off of marketing programs I’m all for them.  There is, however, a broader issue and it’s one of which any business who collects data (that would probably be YOU, dear reader) needs to remain cognizant.

The amount of data your wireless and/or broadband provider has about you is staggering.  They know where you’ve been and when.  They know what you research and with whom you communicate.  This fabulous piece demonstrates what all of this data retention means.  Ad targeting is one very simple use, but what happens when some insurance company decides to work with a broadband provider to find speeders and raise their rates?

Honestly, I’d still be OK with all of it with a very big IF.  Ask yourself this: do you know what’s being collected and do you know how it’s being used?  I can can “yes” to the first question and a very big “no” to the second.  I’m not a tin-foil hat guy – I don’t think there are seriously nefarious things going on at the ISP’s involving data misuse (the government is another matter).  I do think, however, that data collection needs to be explained to consumers in simple language and with sample data.  I think we all need transparency and the ability to opt in, not the demand that we opt out.  Having some protections in place isn’t a bad thing.  After all, the brief history of the commercial internet is rife with bad actors (see ad injectors, malware distributors, browser hijackers, etc.) who will do just about anything to line their pockets.

How do you see it?

Leave a comment

Filed under digital media, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

The Future At The Gates

Over the holidays I spent time catching up on a lot of video content I had missed.  Not unusual, I know, but what was different was how I accessed it.  Some I watched using the VOD capability of my cable provider.  Some I streamed via an Xbox and either Hulu, Amazon, or Netflix.  That video came via my internet connection which was not through my cable provider.   It got me thinking about the gatekeepers, both current and future, and why the battle over Net Neutrality is so critical.

You probably haven’t read the latest PWC study on how consumers are using video.  You can read it here – it’s an excellent study.  The term they use is “videoquake” and I think it’s apt:

This is a wake-up call not just for cinemas and film studios, but also for traditional cable and satellite players and anyone involved in video content production and distribution. The shift is here—alternative forms of video content will continue to rock not only what we watch, but how, where and with whom.

Most of us don’t have more than one high-speed internet provider from whom we can buy service.  There is very little competition and, therefore, no market pressure for many of these ISP’s to upgrade their services.  In many cases it’s the cable TV provider who is also the ISP.  Part of this has to do with the legacy of how cable came to be.  The companies were granted local monopolies in return for building out the systems.  Seemed like a fair trade at the time.  Data to the home was not on many people’s radar when this went on and today these systems are under no obligation to allow anyone else to access their poles or wires.  Building out a competitor is extremely difficult.

You might be aware of the impending FCC rule making on net neutrality.  I won’t write to 3,000 additional words it would take to explain it but in brief many are calling on the FCC to reclassify ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. The popular belief is that Title II classification would allow the FCC to protect net neutrality by regulating against paid prioritization.  You can read a longer explanation here.

While I’m not sure that’s the right answer (rules from 1934?  Seriously?), one effect this would have is to require access to those poles making build out much easier.  If you’re a business that has made money (a LOT of money) from a monopoly on bringing content into the home via coax (cable TV) or ethernet (internet service), you can hear the future at the gate and it’s banging rather loudly. Imagine what happens when not just Google Fiber but companies such as Apple or Yahoo offer internet service (everything old is new again – AOL, anyone?) via their own pipes.

With more and more content being delivered on a stand-alone basis via our internet connections, the gatekeeper (now the wireless carriers or the cable companies in most cases) will collect not just the monthly fees but the data associated with the usage.  That data might be even more valuable (hmm – a free high-speed internet provider who just sells data?  Investors?).

Are you hearing the banging at the gates too?  What are your thoughts?

Leave a comment

Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud

Detective Movies and Broadband

When I watch a thriller or detective movie, I find myself paying a lot of attention to minor things – a front desk clerk, a random event like what’s playing on a TV in a bar – because inevitably the end of the movie involves something that was hinted at earlier.  The key is usually something to which no one seems to be paying attention but would have been recognized as highly significant had they been.

I thought of that when I read a couple of articles over the last week and as I’m going through the reports of yesterday’s new iPad announcement.  Let’s see if the pieces – none of which is seen as a big deal – get you thinking about the ending as they do to me.

First off, there was the report from Nielsen that looks at cord-cutters – those homes that have abandoned cable TV and are using the Internet and over the air signals to watch the programming they previous got via cable:

Though less than 5 percent of TV households, homes with broadband Internet and free, broadcast TV are on the rise—growing 22.8 percent over last year. These households are also found to exhibit interesting video behaviors: they stream video twice as much as the general population and watch half as much TV.

Even among those who haven’t cut the cord, there is a shift to video and Internet provided by the telephone companies:

The number of homes subscribing to wired cable has decreased 4.1 percent in the past year at the same time that telephone company-provided and satellite TV have seen increases of 21.1 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively.

Maybe it’s in part due to higher bit-rates available from companies traditionally seen as ISP’s?  After all, access to broadband Internet is a big priority:

Demonstrating that consumers are increasingly making Internet connectivity a priority, 75.3 percent pay for broadband Internet (up from 70.9% last year); 90.4 percent pay for cable, telephone company-provided TV or satellite. Homes with both paid TV and broadband increased 5.5 percent since last year.

OK – that’s a few of the “minor” characters – nothing huge there.  Now add this:

Across Europe, the Web has surpassed TV as the primary platform for 18-to-35 viewers to watch their favorite sport, according to new research conducted by Havas Sport & Entertainment for the Global Sports Forum Barcelona.

And this:

Stateside, the evidence suggests that more sports nuts are choosing to forgo pay-TV services for Internet services. According to The NPD Group, iVOD users reduced the time they spent watching television shows, news and sports via pay-TV companies by 12% between August 2010 and August 2011.

Every major sports league has some sort of online pay package available, which is not new.  Now let’s add in the new iPad which is becoming the second screen of choice for a lot of people along with an improved AppleTV that makes putting streamed content on to your HD television a snap.  Suddenly, we might be looking at a milestone (and the end of the movie for some businesses).  Live sports is one of the (and I think THE) killer apps.  Up until recently it’s been hard (or illegal) to find your live sport of choice outside of pay TV available through a cable operator.  Suddenly, higher speed broadband married to better devices married to that content being available via your ISP and the ability to throw it on to your big screen TV with no loss of quality while marrying it to apps, data, and social interfaces might be a twist no one saw coming.  Except I think maybe now we can.

What do you think?

Enhanced by Zemanta

2 Comments

Filed under digital media, What's Going On

What Boxing Tells Us About Broadband

Ricardo Dominguez (left) rallied late to win a...

Image via Wikipedia

Growing up, I used to follow boxing.  It was pretty easy to be a fan – there weren’t a lot of weight classes, there was a single sanctioning body that mattered so there was only one champion in each weight class, and it was on free TV (although pay TV didn’t exist yet) every week. In short, it was simple and fan friendly.  A high-quality product was made available each week and promoters and TV networks did everything they could to get me to watch.

What does this have to do with the broadband (and wireless for that matter) business? Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under digital media, sports business