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When Is TV Not TV? (When It's IPTV!)

Submitted by Leo Klein on Sat, 12/30/06 (1:16pm)

AT&T - Your world. Our Restrictions.In order to get its proposed merger with Bell South approved by the FCC, AT&T has agreed to abide by Net Neutrality at least for its DSL service. Initial reaction to this was largely positive echoing the conclusion of Tim Wu:

What is clear is that this agreement marks a critical moment in the recent history of Network Neutrality and big step forward for its supporters.

Unfortunately what isn't covered in the agreement -- in fact, it's specifically ruled out -- is AT&T's next generation internet service called "Internet Protocol television", or 'IPTV', for short.

(more after the jump...)

This exception apparently doesn't faze Wu who, listening to the Siren Call of "TV", dismisses it thus:

These [IPTV] services are IP in name only. They are in practice and architecture a direct competitor to cable television services. These services use only the private infrastructure built by AT&T, and do not rely on the public Internet as described by IP addresses. Hence the exclusion of private IPTV services should be considered less controversial.

So the new service is just like Cable TV! Nothing to worry about!

Susan Crawford on the other hand, will have none of this. In a post titled, "The Day the Internet Became Cable Television", she lambasts the agreement:

AT&T is effectively saying, "We'll keep existing 'broadband' access neutral. But when it comes to our new super-duper 'AT&T Yahoo! High Speed Internet U-verse Enabled,' well, that's not up for negotiation. We need to make money there. 'Enabled' and 'broadband' are not the same thing."

She points to a press-release announcing AT&T's new 'U-verse' service. It describes three levels or "packages" to choose from:

  • Elite: Downstream up to 6.0 Mbps, upstream up to 1.0 Mbps.
  • Pro: Downstream up to 3.0 Mbps, upstream up to 1.0 Mbps.
  • Express: Downstream up to 1.5 Mbps, upstream up to 1.0 Mbps.

Even Guglielmo Marconi could tell you this isn't "TV". With "TV", you don't need an "upstream". The TV station simply dishes it out and you sit there and take it in. That's TV!

You only need upstream, when you want to build feedback into the system -- when you want to make it "interactive" -- sort of like we now have using... DSL.

So the moral of the story is, the moment they start talking about "TV", ask them if they're building any interactivity into it. And if they say yes, ask them how it's any different from what we have now. Just making it faster and slapping a new name on it doesn't make it different.