But I really annoyed them when I complained about the panel's whining about competition. I said that the cable market isn't competitive. People yelled from the audience. I said that where I live, the town has franchised only one cable provider, although I think we're letting in a second. But, people in the audience said, I could get the Net by satellite or DSL. A more gracious and honest person would have accepted that, and clarified: Cable competes with other forms of delivery, but generally doesn't compete with other cable companies within a region...although they compete for franchises. I instead just got sarcastic. Yeah, real mature.But what was particularly interesting was his exchange with a person from Time Warner on the topic of net neutrality.
During the panel beforehand, and in a conversation with a different Time-Warner guy afterwards, they kept coming back to their concern that if Net neutrality passes, the cable companies won't be able to raise capital. Oddly, the TW guy also argued that TW has absolutely no intention of violating Net neutrality. So, I said, TW ought to announce that and take the wind out of the NN sails. But announcing that, he said, would discourage investors. But, I said, it's either part of their business plan or it's not. We did not come to closure on that point. And I'm personally not convinced that that's the real reason they oppose Net neutrality. It sounds to me like a supporting reason, as is the argument that since no one has violated NN yet, we don't need a law forbidding people from violating it, as well as the "Google is getting a free ride" line of reasoning. I think — and I'm indulging my hunches here — that the real reason they oppose NN is that they want to ensure their subscribers have a "good experience," where the criteria of a good experience are those that govern expectations for how television works. They're thinking that users most of all want to be able to watch programs in high def and on demand, and so those packets need to get preference. They are frustrated by Web fanatics who want to hold back this rational load-balancing. The cable companies are in the business of selling us video content, and they see their ability to satisfy their customers being hampered by fanatics holding on to an out-dated architectural principle.I think this exchange offers some interesting insights. First, it highlights the disparate grounds of the carrier industry vs. the Save The Internet folk, and the fact that they are each talking past the other. Second, it highlights the attitude among the carriers that THEY know best what the "consumer" wants. The fact is that the people formerly known as consumers are no longer merely consumers, and the carriers are not delivering content - as McLuhan famously said, the user is the content. 'Net carriers are delivering people and their experiences to each other; hence a big difference vis-a-vis the neutrality/Quality-of-Service debate.
There are, of course, answers to this argument, but I think the primary response should be: No commercial entity should get to decide which experience needs to be optimized. Maybe I want to watch high def video, but you want to play video games, and someone else wants to download the high-resolution scan of the Bayreaux Tapestries. It's not obvious that video should win. The decision should not be made by the people who have a vested, commercial interest in the outcome. IMO.
The corollary to this attitudinal conflict is what I'm hearing from the marketing/branding/advertising front-lines, that is, the brands must now "play by the consumer rules" (this is from the CEO of one of the household-name consumer and packaged goods companies). In the carrier industry, "playing by the consumer rules" at the very least means truly listening to the users' concerns about the loss of the end-to-end principle, which is what net neutrality threatens. This last point is not one that I'm hearing a lot of, especially from the companies that have built their fortune on that very principle's backbone.
[Technorati tags: net neutrality | cable industry | david weinberger]