This week I engaged in a debate on LightReading about Comcast’s Stream TV Service. This service is in Beta and contains a relatively minimalist channel lineup available as a streamed service for $15/month. I want to be transparent about this and so I need to say the following:
1 – I am a Comcast customer.
2 – I am interested in being a Stream TV customer.
3 – If I do become a Stream TV customer, I will explore cord cutting and dumping my linear TV service.
I have done what I think is a reasoned cost study of this and think I can save over $100/month and get all the content that I want including what are considered premium channels like HBO. The debate centered around the idea that Stream TV would not count against a bandwidth cap from Comcast. Today, bandwidth caps in my area (at least) are not enforced so this debate is hypothetical for me. This is being debated as a Net Neutrality issue. My position (and I will outline both sides) is that this service SHOULD count against a bandwidth cap.
So, let’s set the technical background. Cable Service is transmitted in several frequency bands using a modulation technology called Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM). It is an old technology and has been used in cable for decades. Each QAM contains a number of video streams or uses a standards called DOCSIS for Internet Service.
The argument against counting Stream TV against the bandwidth cap is as follows. There is nothing new about the information that is being shipped down the cable. All the bits that Stream TV is sending is exactly the same as they would be in QAMs that were sending it as normal Cable TV. Since the information is already being shipped it should not count against the cap.
The argument for counting Stream TV is that it should be counted the same as any other Over The Top (OTT) video service like Netflix or Hulu. There should be neutral carriage for bits that are being sent in the DOCSIS stream no matter their source or their content. For example, if one was Streaming “The Big Bang Series” via CBS Live at the same time the show was on this is an equivalent of getting it via Stream TV. To be source neutral, one should have both services treated the same economically.
There are precedents for this in the wireless world where bandwidth caps are real. T-Mobile today offers streaming for certain kinds of content but not all. There are two differences here: the services are separate from T-Mobile’s service and some of them cost the consumer money and more importantly T-mobile is a wireless carrier. Wireless today is not under Title II which requires common carriage for consumer services. If it was, then there might be an argument that T-mobile should not be doing its free bandwidth offers today.
So, this is just one more thing to think about as we go through the debate on Net Neutrality. Have a great weekend!
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