Thursday, December 03, 2009

Comcast/NBC is Good for Net Neutrality Because It's Bad for Net Neutrality

The Comcast/NBC partnership is good for Net Neutrality. Why? Because it provides the clearest possible example to the greatest number of people of the dangers of a walled internet without the neutrality principle. Owning NBC, Comcast now has a clear incentive to charge other internet providers like ATT and Verizon for the right to provide access to NBC/Universal content over the internet or simply to provide better, faster or higher definition content to Comcast subscribers, providing a switching incentive.

The high visibility of the NBC/Universal content in the public's eye will ensure that this does not happen. Acting as Congress's agent for the public interest, the FCC or FTC in conjunction with the Department of Justice will not permit this merger to move forward without a binding agreement that non-Comcast users will receive both the same full access and equal treatment as Comcast customers. With these conditions in place, it will set a clear precedent for the first time for internet video content, echoing the FCC's Madison River decision which protected VoIP content.

Perhaps, the clearest precedent to the current case, though, lies in the FTC's handling of Time-Warner's 1995 acquisition of CNN. As a condition of the merger, the FTC required Time-Warner to carry a second 24 hour news channel in order to provide competition to its own CNN. Time Warner chose to carry a fledgling joint venture between Microsoft and NBC - MSNBC. Rupert Murdoch took issue with this choice, made over his equally young 24 hour news channel - Fox News. Several lawsuits later Time Warner settled and agreed to carry Fox News in the New York City market. This event ultimately led to the prominence and reach that Fox News has today.

Comcast customers currently have equal and non-discriminatory access to content from NBC, Disney, Viacom and countless other providers. This merger will not occur unless Comcast agrees to preserve this status quo, which will provide the highest profile real world affirmation of the doctrine of Net Neutrality to date.

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