A Net Neutrality Business Plan

Hollywood powers are taking sides in the escalating debate over "net neutrality."
net neutrality

Major media conglomerates and trade groups such as the Motion Picture Association of America largely support the cable and phone companies who would like to limit traffic on their broadband networks from high-bandwith file-sharing sites such as BitTorrent, which eat up expensive limited bandwidth. The blocking technology is seen as useful in the fight against piracy by the corporate media interests, since illegal downloads are rampant on BitTorrent and elsewhere, although the company is also in business with said conglomerates through the license of its technology on their own networks.

Groups pushing the Federal Communications Commission for network neutrality rules, including the Writers Guild of America, fear independent voices who are distributing their content legally would not be able to reach millions of potential broadband customers; they fear the large companies will receive preferential treatment on the networks as part of a "pay for play" model. Comcast and BitTorrent last month teamed up to address the issue after activists accused the nation's largest cable Internet provider from blocking access on its network to the service; Comcast has said it only slowed down some heavy users. The FCC is currently investigating the matter.

Among the public policy issues to be sorted out: Exactly who owns or controls the Internet. Should the government get involved in an industry of which infrastructure until now has largely been built and maintained by largely self-regulated private interests?

Suppose net neutrality advocates' fears are realized -- how about this as a possible solution: A new business model for content distribution in which independent producers pooled their resources through a single outlet. Say, producers negotiate a fee with a future distribution service which in turn pays the ISP toll takers for top network access thanks to its increased clout.

An experiment launched by a Philadelphia public television station could offer an early glimpse at such a model. The station has turned over its airwaves to short-form independently yet professionally produced video segments a la YouTube. The service, dubbed MindTV, is billed as being "like the early MTV, but with more than music." MTV didn't end up making any business impact, right?