Original Article ( http://fsp.tw/122 )
The FCC has approved the acquisition of NBC with Comcast. And while there are conditions in the acquisition that will be beneficial, I am reluctant in putting my stamp of approval on it just yet. There are a number of reasons of why as well. First, NBC is a part of Universal Studios which is a major movie production company. Next, NBC is a major holder of Hulu, and while that has to be absolved as a condition, that is not the right way. And then there is Comcast’s we screw everything up policies they seem to have (at least with my experience with them).
So, with the acquisition of NBC, this could mean that movies produced by Universal studios will be less likely to go to competitors such as Netflix, or now Hulu. Imagine being a Time Warner customer, and not getting that latest hit summer movie from Universal on Time Warner Pay Per View just because Comcast wants to make sure that Comcast customers get their fill first. Keep in mind that in 99.99% of the US, there is only one cable provider, so they really don’t even compete. In addition, imagine Netflix, nor Hulu getting any of this content simply because Comcast doesn’t want it. Yes, there are shows on Hulu from Comcast owned networks, but this is not the full allotment, as that will compete with their flagship service (cable television). Now let’s look at the conditions of the merger. There are a few of them, and I would go into detail of what I think of all of them. They are things I can agree with, but I still feel that Comcast is going to mess things up while following the condition.
- Provide 2.5 Million people with $10 broadband access
- Computer systems for $150 or less
- Provide Internet Anchors
- 400,000 new subscriber options in 6 rural areas
- Comcast can not withhold or take corporate control over Hulu
- Open Internet
Provide Internet Access for $10
Now, this won’t apply to the first 2.5 Million who say give me $10 service. Instead, it is to provide broadband Internet access to low income people and families. So, if you are in need of federal assistance such as food stamps, LIHEAP, SSI, Welfare, or medical assistance programs, you most likely will qualify. Therefore such people and families will be allowed to get $10 service from Comcast (if they are in the Comcast market of course). However, I did not read anything about caps, nor speeds. For example, the FCC says that broadband starts at 5MBPS (yes, the world is laughing), however every ISP seems to declare broadband as not dialup. I used to talk with a person who had satellite service, and she would mention how her “broadband” took hours to do much of anything, and getting real content was not possible. For this to mean something, there must be an accepted standard of minimum service. In addition, latency must remain low. Keep in mind, people on low income usually needs to make their dollars count. I know if my latency was acceptable, I could use a $5.00 monthly service that will allow me to use a SIP connection to make calls, and show my Google Voice number. Now, E911 is not supported, but there is Safelink Wireless which can suffice for that. However, this can not work the way it should if the latency is high. Then there is the data cap where Comcast could block your service if you go over 250GB. What happens if this special plan has a 10GB cap? Of course, the low income family can always get the $100 TV package and not have to rely on internet for the content.
Here is what I think this should mean. First, there must be a standard. The low income user must receive at least 5/1MBPS with at most a 100ms ping. If Comcast must put a cap on service, this should be the same as everyone else. This will allow the family to actually receive broadband, and make use of it.
Again, this is for those that will be on low income. However, this is definitely possible – but have you seen $150 computers? They are low memory, small hard drives, and outdated everything. So does Comcast get these used PCs, make sure they work, and sell them off? If so, a person on low income can do that.
Now, I am saying that top of the line PCs must be available. But they should have the specs of new low end systems. Maybe a PC manufacturer can make a special edition PC. And to allow things to be simple, and low energy demands (no point in having a 500 watt monster), All in Ones should be looked into. Hard drives, memory, and optical drives should be easily upgraded. Replace any legacy ports with USB, and offer 1 eSATA. Have a RJ-45, and offer wifi-G. Yes, wifi-N is the latest standard, but this is a budget PC. I will even be OK with dropping the optical drive, and require the consumer to get their own. To make the use of space limits, use SODIMM, and 2.5″ SATA drives. If there will be a company to partner with Comcast to do this, than Comcast can provide realistic system lines, and of course – Comcast will put their line of crapware. Just make sure it is either Windows XP, or Windows 7 Home Premium.
Schools, Non-Profits, and Libraries are examples of Internet Anchors. They are intended to provide free internet access to those that can not otherwise afford it. They also are intended to provide the instant research sources that the internet has. And while this may definitely be important for research on the spot, and to serve the homeless community, I will personally feel that the providing access to the home as being something that will serve the poor better.
Unless every poor person gets a notebook PC, having internet anchors only accomplishes half the task. Simply put, there are usually not enough computers, nor seats to serve the community. This is why many libraries offer wireless internet services – therefore allowing people to bring their own PC, and use their internet. There needs to be more of a focus to offer more cost effective solutions to help those that can’t get a portable PC. And as noted with the above, these PCs need to be low power. All in Ones without an optical drive, but offering means to store content should be allowed. In addition, education in cloud services, and reimplementation of U3 drives should be considered. This will allow people who can not afford a home to have their $10 internet service to at least invest in a $25 thumb drive that they can plug into a library computer, and use the resources to try to get back on their feet. At least the last time I used the library, the USB ports were locked out from using U3. This meant that I could not use my email client to check my email, or use the web browser with the bookmarks I had to get the content I needed. While this was just an inconvenience to me, someone that is homeless, and don’t have their own PC to get out of homelessness, this is a serious detriment.
Expanding in 6 Rural Areas
Comcast needs to offer subscriptions to 400,000 low income subscribers to at least 6 rural areas. While this may seem silly to most people, once you pass the suburbs, the rural areas will have minimal infrastructure. There are people in Appalachia (North East US) for example that do not have telephone services, nor any form of television services – things which are taken for granted. By providing access to these people, it would give them the resources they need to communicate, and to educate themselves. However, the infrastructure will be laid.
My thoughts on this issue is that instead of Comcast laying in where it would be hard to build for, and therefore more expensive to those who will need it the most, Comcast will build where it is easier, and where there are other options. While this is not completely bad, it does mean that the ones who need the services most will again not be served.
Comcast can’t withhold, and can’t have corporate control over Hulu. However, wouldn’t this give more of a reason for Comcast to abandon the Hulu service? The way things works is that Hulu negotiates with content providers to provide their material and there is revenue sharing with the ads. Before Comcast bought NBC, Hulu will negotiate with Comcast to provide content to Hulu. However, now it will seem as if this would just make everything easier – but would it? The FCC can not force Comcast to provide content to Hulu, especially if they don’t have corporate control.
And now that Comcast has loss some stake in Hulu, wouldn’t it make more sense that there will be no invested interest with Hulu? Just as ABC will have no invested interest in CNet or CW (both properties of CBS), why would Comcast have any particular care for Hulu if it can’t have any corporate power? What should have been better phrased was that there can not just be Comcast content unless the other content providers has no will to play.
In my opinion, this should actually be the law. Just as telephone carriers are not allowed to block telephone numbers because they aren’t carried by them, the ISP should never be allowed to block content, or force someone to pay for additional rights to content. The fact that this seems to be singled out to Comcast might just be a first step to what should be law.
I personally still feel that ISPs should be able to disclose what a customer should expect 90% of the time. They shouldn’t say you can get 50MBPS when you may only get that 5 minutes out of a week while you are getting 5MBPS most of the remainder of the time. This way, if the content provider who may happen to be an ISP is willing to prioritize their traffic to give you 10 times the speed, that is fine as long as they provide you with that minimum you should expect.
So, there you have it. I am cautious about the acquisition of NBC by Comcast, but hopefully my fears of Comcast trying to not find some legal loophole to screw the consumer over will be un-justified. Here’s to hoping.