Internet Advocates Rip Comcast's Broadband TV Everywhere
Comcast and Time Warner are hailing their new arrangement to offer Time Warner content online exclusively to Comcast subscribers. Others, however, call the test trial anti-competitive, anti-consumer and a threat to the open Internet.
Comcast and Time Warner's plan to make Time Warner's content available for free over the Internet exclusively to Comcast cable subscribers was attacked by consumer groups June 24 as anti-competitive, anti-consumer and a threat to the open Internet. The trial service-known as TV Everywhere-is an attempt by content providers and cable companies to monetize streaming content over the Internet.
For Comcast and other cable providers, the plan holds the opportunity to retain cable customers even as more and more video content is made available free online through outlets like Hulu.com and broadcasters are increasingly making their content available over broadband connections.
"We consistently look to make our popular, branded content more accessible to consumers in order to grow our business," Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes said in a June 23 statement. "This progressive approach to delivering television content online will enable the continued vibrancy and growth of distribution outlets, their content partners and advertising clients."
Added Brian L. Roberts, Chairman and CEO of Comcast: "We have been working for a year to bring more TV and movie content to our customers online and we are thrilled that Time Warner is joining us in our national technical trial. Ultimately, our goal is to make TV content available to our customers on all platforms."
The Time Warner content will be available to "authenticated" Comcast subscribers, a fact not unnoted by Public Knowledge and the Media Access Project.
"Under the 'TV Everywhere' plan, no other program distributors would be able to emerge, and no consumers will be able to 'cut the cord' because they find what they want online. As a result, consumers will be the losers," said Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge. "Limiting access to programming is straight out of the cable playbook, going back to the days when Congress had to act in 1992 to allow the satellite programming distributors to have access to cable programming."
Sohn said her organization plans to ask the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice to review the Comcast-Time Warner arrangement.
"We are concerned that this program violates the open nature of the Internet," Sohn said. "By adding this additional toll lane, Comcast and Time Warner want to create their own 'managed channel' within the Internet and turn the Internet into their own private cable channel."
Media Access Project Vice President Parul P. Desai voiced similar concerns.
"These new initiatives raise serious legal and policy questions. Putting content behind a paid wall threatens the wide open model which has made the Internet innovative and diverse," Desai said in a statement. "Until now, users have been in control, but the 'experiment' ... appears to limit customer choice. The American public must be attentive whenever choice, innovation and diversity are threatened."
Comcast and Time Warner have been at the forefront of Internet access battles from network neutrality to metered billing. In August 2008 the FCC found Comcast guilty of violating the agency's network neutrality principles for blocking P2P traffic from BitTorrent. Time Warner's cable division plan to impose metered broadband billing with overage charges prompted proposed federal legislation to limit the practice.