Antitrust The U.S. Justice Department has opened a “wide-ranging antitrust investigation” into whether cable operators are illegally using bandwidth caps and other tactics to try to squash growing competition from online video services like Netflix, the Wall Street Journal reported last week. Subsequent reporting by the Journal revealed the investigation also covers the satellite TV services Dish Network and DirecTV, and that the feds are also looking into whether pay-TV operators are using so-called most-favored nation clauses in carriage agreements with the networks to restrict the network’s ability to license their content to online, over-the-top distributors.
The investigation and the issues at stake, particularly the department’s apparent focus on most-favored nation agreements, carry distinct echoes of the lawsuit the Justice Department filed in April against Apple and several leading publishers over an alleged conspiracy to fix prices in the e-book market. As in the cable industry investigation, the e-book lawsuit charges Apple with using most-favored nation clauses in its agency licensing agreements with the publishers to ensure that neither Amazon nor any other e-book retailer gets a better deal than Apple got or can sell e-books at prices lower than Apple’s price.
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Net Neutrality Here’s an interesting one: Comcast is getting ready to roll out its Xfinity On Demand app for the Xbox 360, giving Xfinity TV subscribers who also have an Xbox Live Gold subscription access to Comcast’s on-demand library of content through their Xbox console and through the Kinect interface if they also have the gesture-control add-on (h/t Ars Technica).
That content includes thousands of movies and tens of thousands of TV titles that Comcast currently makes available to subscribers on-demand across a wide range of platforms. Since the Xfinity for Xbox service requires users to have at least one TV in the house connected to a Comcast set-top box, the new Xbox app presumably will also include access to the new Netflix-like Xfinity Streamix subscription service Comcast recently introduced that lets Comcast Digital Video customers stream thousands of additional movies and TV shows on-demand through their TV set-top box.
Best of all, according to Comcast’s FAQ page on the new Xbox app, Xfinity content streamed through Xbox Live will not count toward subscriber’s 250 GB per month data cap, because the content “is being delivered over our private IP network and not the public Internet.”
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Net Neutrality The Wall Street Journal generated some buzz this morning with its story about the rude awakening greeting owners of the new 4G-enabled iPad when they discover that all the streaming video they’re consuming on their speedy new tablets is crushing their monthly data allotments. A weekend’s worth of March Madness can easily chew up 3GB of data from AT&T or Verizon, leaving iPad owners with nothing for the rest of the month unless they’re willing to pay an additional $10 per gigabyte.
The Journal may have buried the lede a bit, though, at least as far as content owners are concerned. Three grafs from the bottom of a long piece the paper mentions that AT&T is “studying a plan to give app developers and content providers the option to pay for the mobile data their products use, thereby keeping those apps and videos from counting against a user’s allotment of data, kind of like an 800-number for apps.”
As the website MacRumors put it, the plan “would presumably allow bandwidth usage for certain apps to be free. For example, watching shows from a TV network app such as ABC Player might not count against your monthly bandwidth allotment. Instead, ABC would pay AT&T (or Verizon) for the mobile bandwidth consumed. In return, ABC would likely see increased usage of their app to watch shows and more revenue from in-show advertising.”
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