Disclaimer: I hate cable companies.
Well, who doesn’t, am I right? Paying $50, $80, $100 a month or more for scores of channels that just aren’t that good. How many times have you flipped through channels 2 through 200 looking for something to watch that didn’t suck? Lots of times? All the time?
This year, I finally joined the ranks of the cord-cutters – dropped an $80/month TV package when I realized that I was watching most of my TV through Netflix – House Of Cards, Sherlock, Game Of Thrones (yes – I still cling to my DVD-by-mail service), etc. Everything else, I could find a much cheaper alternative to cable TV. Doctor Who? Watch for $3 an episode through Amazon.com. NFL football? Buy a decent indoor antenna and watch over the air.
The Big Bang Theory? Assuming I don’t watch it over the air, I can watch it over the weekend on CBS.com.
Time Warner – the cable TV provider in Bay Ridge – has always been very aggressive with content providers in negotiating rebroadcast fees, same as Cablevision and other American cable TV providers. Aggressive to the point of being dicks. They haven’t been shy about temporarily pulling a station from their TV package as a means of gaining leverage, the consumer be damned.
But they haven’t gone as far as blocking a content provider from their Internet service. Not because they aren’t obnoxious enough… I’m pretty sure they are. But they’re flat out not allowed to block access. In the U.S., net neutrality is the law of the land for Internet service provider. An ISP is obligated to be neutral to what kinds of sites their customers can access, so Time Warner can’t block CBS, or any other site.
Unfortunately, the same principle does not apply to the content providers themselves. There are a number of reasons why an Internet site would block access from certain ISP’s or computer locations.
A high-security site may wish to allow access only to computers at a certain location (somehow, I imagine the National Security Agency’s PRISM program works so only someone physically located at an NSA site can access it). Media redistributors like Netflix or iTunes may allow or block access based on country or region to comply with contractual agreements with the content owners.
Somewhat dubiously, ESPN has restricted its online-only channel, ESPN 3, to only those ISPs which have agreed to pay per-subscriber fees to the sports broadcaster, rather than appealing directly to the consumer, as seen in the Netflix model – thus denying access to Cablevision subscribers until just a few months ago. (Time Warner has done something similar with NY1, though I would make the case that people who can’t watch NY1 are the ones getting the better deal.)
And now, CBS has blocked Time Warner Internet customers from watching shows online because they wanted to jump onboard the dick bandwagon. In order to punish a business rival.
And the consumer – and the spirit of network neutrality that has benefited individuals from the Internet’s very start – be damned.