The Race Is On

The Sundance Channel has joined the rush to distribute online, partnering with Google Video, not iTunes. “The deal allows consumers to download their choice of 18 of the network’s movie titles at $3.99 for a 24-hour rental or $9.99 to own. Three of the Sundance Channel’s original series are available only for purchase starting at $1.99 an episode.”

Last month, AppleInsider reported that iTunes should be serving full-feature films by the year’s end. It already provides access to shows from 32 channels — including ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX.

I bought a Daily Show With Jon Stewart episode this week (because I’d lost my own recording on ReplayTV). Quality was clearly not up to my own recording — frame rate was too slow, action and audio were often out of sync. However, it was good enough for my purpose — but not worth more than the $1.99 that I paid. (And fortunately, they do strip commercials.)

As content providers rush to serve this nascent market, it behooves us all to watch what Congress is doing to ensure that content zeros-and-ones have no artificially imposed constraints or tolls.

Cable companies and telecos are pushing Congress to give them the freedom to charge Google or Apple or Amazon an additional fee — beyond what they already pay for traffic — to ensure that their content is promptly delivered to your computer. Cable and telecos want to be able to prioritize content that they own — or charge other firms a fee to prioritize their content over their competitors. Their proposal is the antithesis of net neutrality, which is a prohibition on network discrimination.

Behavior like this is explicitly prohibited in telecommunications. Verizon can’t treat phone calls from Qwest or Sprint any differently than it treats its own.

Of course, companies don’t want to behave this way! They’d love to discriminate so that they could seek network effects (use this behavior to grab a larger market share). The loser in that case would be you and me, because we’d eventually have even less competition than we have now. [Aside: the telecos already have us in a lock with wireless phones … we can only use the phone that they’ve picked for their network. It ain’t this way in the rest of the world.]

Because we have next-to-zero competition in the broadband market, it’s even more imperative that those who provide our high-speed access should not be allowed to institute additional tolls. Of the estimated 35 million customers with broadband, only 1 percent has a choice of broadband provider. [Choice = competition.]

Learn more about this issue at SaveTheInternet. Then call or write (on paper!) your Congressman. Don’t e-mail; don’t use a webform (except to add to the numbers … SaveTheInternet has a million signators, but it’s no match for PAC money.) Electronic communication with Congress has less impact than phone or mail (because these two take more energy and show commitment).

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