Cocktail conversation on CES party circuit: Washington, tech policy
In a penthouse suite at the Planet Hollywood hotel in Las Vegas, a designer denim- and black t-shirt-clad crowd of online entertainment and video executives and developers shook hands and exchanged cards and Twitter handles. They also talked about how their future rests largely with the Federal Communications Commission.
The event was a party by Internet television provider Boxee on the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show. And while the guests came from Los Angeles, New York and Tel Aviv, many seemed well-versed in some of Washington’s biggest tech policy issues.
Tim Street is the CEO of Ape Digital, a Pasadena, Calif.-based company that produces online videos. He’s been watching the FCC’s moves to develop a net neutrality policy that he said is important to keep the Web open like it is today so that applications like his can thrive.
“I’ve been following because I know where my bread is getting buttered,” Street said. “I can see a scenario where the 200-plus lobbyists that are fighting against net neutrality can make it so that independent online video content creators won't be able to afford an entrance fee onto the Web.”
Street said he is concerned about trends in the cable and satellite industry to extend their current models onto the Web. He said he is concerned about TV Everywhere, a strategy by Comcast and other cable and satellite providers to bring online content to only their subscribers of Internet and cable service.
“This is a closed system and it’s unclear how new video can get on to this system,” Street said.
Steve Harnesberger, vice president of business development for Jaman, has been working in the streaming video industry for about a decade. Back then, it was difficult to get consumers to watch their videos over their computers. But it was also hard to get carriers to support such services from startups.
“We’re still fighting the good fight, but it's still the land of the giants,” Harnesberger said.
He said potential interest by carriers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast to charge by how much bandwidth a user consumes is bad for consumers and could slow demand for video, which consumes the most bandwidth.
Harnesberger said the business motivation is for cable and telecom carriers to get extra revenue from bandwidth usage that they would be losing from consumers who cut the cord of cable television services for only broadband Internet.
The only reason why more people aren’t cutting the cord for television services is because they want to get their news and sports over cable and satellite, he said. That’s why Comcast wants to own more content through its merger with NBC Universal, Harnesberger said.
But by putting so much content into the hands of the nation’s biggest cable and Internet operator raises concerns over how Comcast would treat its content over others and if it would treat unfairly competitors such as Netflix and Hulu by prioritizing their own online video distribution over theirs.
“This bears careful scrutiny,” Harnesberger said.
January 7, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
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