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ESPN gives the middle finger to Net Neutrality

ESPN gives the middle finger to Net Neutrality

Image courtesy of Wired.com

In a quite frankly disgusting move against sports fans, the ESPN has effectively given the middle finger to net neutrality, forcing its customers to switch to an affiliate ISP in order to view its online video service, reports Wired.

ESPN currently shows 3,500 sporting events a year through its online service, but if you've signed up to the wrong ISP you'll just get a red box roll over telling you your Internets are wrong.

This is a turn around from the original net neutrality problem which saw ISPs trying to charge websites for bandwidth its subscribers had already paid for. Instead, now ESPN is demanding ISPs pony up for licenses to allow their users to view its content. Some might argue that it's no different from paying for a cable package - if you want the premium content, then you have to pay for it.

However it's not stopped other sites for many years just creating a paid-for section: buy a login and get premium content. Instead ESPN is circumventing this and making everyone using affiliated ISPs, regardless of whether they want to view its content or not.

ESPN is owned by Disney, so expect this cancerous trend to proliferate to other services - in fact, music might also follow the same trend as well.

Some might also argue that the BBC's geo-targetting of its iPlayer service is very closely linked to this kind of trend, especially as it effectively means those who don't own a TV, get content for free anyway (we pay for a TV license in the UK), and viewers outside of our small island have no chance whatsoever of viewing it either.

So, great, we're going to end up with everything we've fought to avoid - a patchy Internet ruled by affiliate programs and licenses. Inevitably it will only make piracy even more widespread as customers frustrated by greedy companies who don't make it easy to consume premium content, will inevitably just look elsewhere. How many of us care enough to change our ISPs? It's not exactly an easy or efficient process after all. We've hit the slippery slope, and there's grease already under our feet.

What do you think the solution is? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.

43 Comments

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WILD9 6th February 2009, 12:00 Quote
I hope someone takes a stand against this crap. Maybe google could delist the ESPN website or something, just wishful thinking though isnt it, the corporate steamroller is on its way through :(
Florian 6th February 2009, 12:09 Quote
This concept isn't entirely new. People used to pay for AOL or CompuServe to get "premium" content not available on the "normal" internet before anyone even thought of net neutrality. Still, one has to hope that this experiment will be an epic failure.
mikeuk2004 6th February 2009, 12:14 Quote
Ok so if i read this right, you got be with a specific isp to get the content.

So what happens if somelse does this kind of thing,.

Does that mean I would have to have several telephone lines going into my house with different broadband accounts inorder to have access to all of the internet?

Stupid idea and will anger ISP's surely as it will take their customers unless they pay up for a licence most of its customers wont even use.
azrael- 6th February 2009, 12:15 Quote
Good thing I've absolutely no care at all for sports, but that doesn't make the prospects of this any less scary.
Pookeyhead 6th February 2009, 12:54 Quote
Sports is the thin end of the wedge. Soon it will be Music and video.

Cinical, money grabbing *******s.. that's all I have to say.
Phil Rhodes 6th February 2009, 12:56 Quote
The only way I currently have of accessing HD content, since I don't own a blu-ray device, is to download it - but nobody's offering the service. Hello, Big Media, would you like some of my money? Better start offering to sell me things, then, eh?

P
p3n 6th February 2009, 13:13 Quote
This isn't neccessarily ESPN's fault - basically the other scenario that could have happened with BBC iPlayer; instead of ISPs complaining that iplayer was using too much bandwidth and the BBC kindly agreeing to let them host a 'mirror' so that traffic wasn't peered with more expensive networks.

Instead ESPN made it only available to the 'cheap peers' so that ISPs couldn't complain.
Fly 6th February 2009, 13:21 Quote
The non affiliated ISPs should blacklist ESPN and all associated content. That would make them backtrack rather quickly I think.
DXR_13KE 6th February 2009, 13:38 Quote
this is already happening in youtube with the "this content is not available for your region" notice....
perplekks45 6th February 2009, 13:38 Quote
That's a joke, right?
D3s3rt_F0x 6th February 2009, 13:47 Quote
See paying for content specifically yes, thats fair enough, having to change to a different ISP no, but There does need to be some way of the companies making money after all they cant do it for free.

But this is the wrong way to go about it.
TGImages 6th February 2009, 14:47 Quote
It has to fail. What If I can't get that ISP in my area? What happens when someone else does this with a different ISP? How do I have 2 ISPs as the same time?

They just took their user base and greatly reduced it. I expect a pretty quick back pedal on this which a change to paid for content within the site regardless of how you get there. The current method just does not make sense.
TGImages 6th February 2009, 14:52 Quote
I just read the wired release... it's even worse. Your ISP has to cough up cash to ESPN to show that content... and you as a user of that ISP are going to see that passed along in your ISP fees even if you don't use or ever go to ESPN. I can see a class action lawsuit against the ISP and/or EPSN over this issue... charging customers for content they don't want.
MrMonroe 6th February 2009, 15:21 Quote
Well, it's a brilliant move by ESPN. It's like, supervillian-level stuff. It's certainly not good for customers, but it's going to make ESPN rich as hell.

Also, to whoever wrote this article for bit-tech:

I know you guys are games and tech journalists, but you're still journalists. This isn't a news article, it's an op-ed piece. If you're editorializing it should really be on the main page, where we expect it. If it doesn't warrant a headline article, just drop it in here, straight up. I guarantee the bit-tech community has enough vitriol for actions like this to go around.

/twocents
Flibblebot 6th February 2009, 15:24 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by DXR_13KE
this is already happening in youtube with the "this content is not available for your region" notice....
There's a difference between filtering content to different regions for copyright reasons, but what ESPN is not regional filtering, it's forcing you to change ISPs just to get its content - and presumably more money than they'd get since they're charging twice for the service: once to the ISP to become an affiliate and once to the end user for their subscription fee.

It's different from what the Beeb is doing too: yes, it appears to be free to us, but it is funded by the licence fee; there might be a few people who don't pay their licence fee but access iPlayer, but I'd imagine they're few and far between.

What ESPN is doing is wrong, greedy and represents the worst aspects of the media companies.
fyes 6th February 2009, 15:38 Quote
Net neutrality has a noble ring to it. Sadly, it's just a name. I wonder if we should have "Cola Neutrality", where any fast food chain must serve both Pepsi and Coke. We can't let McDonald's give Cola Neutrality the finger by having an exclusive agreement with Coke. Why, that would be giving those two companies freedom of contract and association and expose them to the vagaries of consumer choice.
Sir Digby 6th February 2009, 16:03 Quote
I feel that it a little unfair to bring the BBC iplayer into this discussion - that has good reason to be limited to just Britain.

It's not like you can really get the BBC broadcast from other countries either.
nicae 6th February 2009, 16:32 Quote
other ISPs should just plain reroute people to ESPNs rivals, while people should just stop going to ESPN in the first place
reaper1984 6th February 2009, 16:54 Quote
I wouldn't worry too much, it's going to be an epic failure. How many people are going to go through the palava of changing their ISP to get one website, even if it does have lots of sport. Piracy will increase and they will make less money than they did in the first place. Can't see it lasting long myself. It's a bit like telling someone they have to get a new TV just to watch one single extra channel. It's not going to happen.
aron311 6th February 2009, 16:59 Quote
People will just download it from 'alternative' sources :-)
Bindibadgi 6th February 2009, 17:20 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by MrMonroe


I know you guys are games and tech journalists, but you're still journalists. This isn't a news article, it's an op-ed piece. If you're editorializing it should really be on the main page, where we expect it. If it doesn't warrant a headline article, just drop it in here, straight up. I guarantee the bit-tech community has enough vitriol for actions like this to go around.

/twocents

Usually we are, but c'mon, this is cancerous for the internet and our consumption of media. There is absolutely NOTHING good about what ESPN is going unless you are a shareholder. There is no other balancing of their position. I did drop in another alternative, that was iPlayer, but rarely nothing much compares to it.
Quote:
I feel that it a little unfair to bring the BBC iplayer into this discussion - that has good reason to be limited to just Britain.

That's true - don't get me wrong, I love iPlayer - but the BBC doesn't offer even a subscription service to people outside the UK and the internet is designed to be for everyone. If I want to - I should be able to view websites the other side of the world, which I do regularly. It doesn't matter where you command the data from.
B3CK 6th February 2009, 17:57 Quote
I don't watch anything espn. related. If my isp pays for this, which in turn makes me pay for it,, I will switch isp's just to not pay for it. then d/l the media from alternative sources, then delete it, just to spite them. Same thing, if they are scanning ip's from espn's side; then no worries, but if espn is trying to force the isp's to filter-allow then that's just one more hop on my broadband, that will even further drop my ping times..

Again, if TWC here in the states goes with that, I will switch to a slower dsl just to F'n show them what's up.
Flibblebot 6th February 2009, 18:09 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by fyes
Net neutrality has a noble ring to it. Sadly, it's just a name. I wonder if we should have "Cola Neutrality", where any fast food chain must serve both Pepsi and Coke. We can't let McDonald's give Cola Neutrality the finger by having an exclusive agreement with Coke. Why, that would be giving those two companies freedom of contract and association and expose them to the vagaries of consumer choice.
But your example is not the same as ESPN is doing.

To extend your analogy, it would be as though McDonalds only served you if you drove to them in a Ford. If you used, say, a Chrysler then they wouldn't serve you.

That's not consumer choice.
Sir Digby 6th February 2009, 18:40 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bindibadgi

I love iPlayer - but the BBC doesn't offer even a subscription service to people outside the UK

Ah

A subscription to the iplayer for other countries would indeed be an excellent idea
Diosjenin 6th February 2009, 18:44 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by B3CK
I don't watch anything espn. related. If my isp pays for this, which in turn makes me pay for it,, I will switch isp's just to not pay for it. then d/l the media from alternative sources, then delete it, just to spite them.

Agreed. Although I have little doubt that this will be a gesture that will fail abysmally, I have enough sense to understand that this will be a precedence-setter for all kinds of content providers. As such, I would have little to no problem intentionally seeding ESPN's restricted content (which I personally would never watch as I am not a huge sports person) if it would assist in driving the message through the skulls of their management. The Internet is not a medium where you can implement whatever business practices you think will make you the most money, consumer be damned. It never has been, and it never will be.

You'd thought they'd have learned their lesson from the MAFIAA by now.


- Diosjenin -
fyes 6th February 2009, 21:06 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Flibblebot
But your example is not the same as ESPN is doing.

To extend your analogy, it would be as though McDonalds only served you if you drove to them in a Ford. If you used, say, a Chrysler then they wouldn't serve you.

That's not consumer choice.

I like your extension, and agree that it is closer to what ESPN is doing. I disagree that it is not consumer choice. You always have the choice to do business with the company or not. If you really want McDonald's, you'll determine that for you, it's worth ensuring that you own a Ford. More likely, you'll drive what you drive and give McD's the one (or two) finger salute. It's still your choice.
1ad7 6th February 2009, 22:05 Quote
yeah i think Ima be giving espn the one finger salute for a bit this is kinda low
frojoe 6th February 2009, 22:17 Quote
In principle I agree that this is a bad thing for all net users, but in reality I can't really see too many people switching ISP just to get this. That would be a pain in the arse.
Diosjenin 6th February 2009, 22:20 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by fyes
I like your extension, and agree that it is closer to what ESPN is doing. I disagree that it is not consumer choice. You always have the choice to do business with the company or not. If you really want McDonald's, you'll determine that for you, it's worth ensuring that you own a Ford. More likely, you'll drive what you drive and give McD's the one (or two) finger salute. It's still your choice.

Except that this isn't a situation where you can change over to any ISP anytime you want. I know where my parents live, Comcast is the only available option (if you don't want to use DSL or dial-up - and seeing as lower-speed providers live on a small enough margin as it is, they probably won't see fit to give ESPN anything).

And don't forget that ESPN also has exclusive broadcast rights to a very high number of sports games/events/etc., so as it stands, they are often the only place to go to if you want to watch certain content.

So the McD/Ford equivalent would be that McDonalds has made themselves the only chain legally allowed to sell, say, chicken strips, and then they refuse to serve you unless you drive a Ford. If you want a burger, yeah, you can go somewhere else, but if you want chicken strips, you need to drive a Ford. (Oh, and Fords are only available to buy in a third of the country).

I certainly agree it's your choice to give them the one-finger salute, but even calling it a 'choice' seems a bit of a stretch to me.


- Diosjenin -
fyes 6th February 2009, 22:35 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Diosjenin
Except that this isn't a situation where you can change over to any ISP anytime you want. I know where my parents live, Comcast is the only available option (if you don't want to use DSL or dial-up - and seeing as lower-speed providers live on a small enough margin as it is, they probably won't see fit to give ESPN anything).

And don't forget that ESPN also has exclusive broadcast rights to a very high number of sports games/events/etc., so as it stands, they are often the only place to go to if you want to watch certain content.

So the McD/Ford equivalent would be that McDonalds has made themselves the only chain legally allowed to sell, say, chicken strips, and then they refuse to serve you unless you drive a Ford. If you want a burger, yeah, you can go somewhere else, but if you want chicken strips, you need to drive a Ford. (Oh, and Fords are only available to buy in a third of the country).

I certainly agree it's your choice to give them the one-finger salute, but even calling it a 'choice' seems a bit of a stretch to me.


- Diosjenin -

When the use or threat of state sanctioned violence (e.g. a legally protected monopoly as in your example) is in play, all bets are off -- the consumer is unlikely to win. Ironically, "Net Neutrality", as I understand it, would require enforcement from the state, with the accompanying use or threat of violence.

In my view, the one-finger salute is a great choice. It's a clear signal to the company that you will not do business with them on the terms they have proposed. What I think you're really griping about is that they haven't proposed a business arrangement with you on terms that you want.
Carcarius 6th February 2009, 23:05 Quote
... I can do without ESPN. If they want to play this game, let them. They'll have some success since many people can't live without ESPN. Those who can't live without but have some modicum of respect for economic responsibility will protest. Then there are others like me who will boycott ESPN. I can get my sports news elsewhere.

Let the greedy lie in their own feces.
VipersGratitude 7th February 2009, 01:10 Quote
Compuserve thought this was a good idea once too...
outlawaol 7th February 2009, 03:32 Quote
Wide spread knowledge is what makes or breaks these moves by companies. Under the table tactics seems to be only noticed by people when it starts to affect them (and usually its so far gone that there is nothing that can be done about it). So, where is the information to do something about it? Post some resources, in the article, that gets people to act!

Everyone has a ******* opinion about everything then does nothing...

*sigh* Sorry, just feeling testy...
ssj12 7th February 2009, 04:34 Quote
hopefully Obama's eco stimulus package is passed then so the US can give the middle finger right back at ESPN
LAGMonkey 7th February 2009, 10:40 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bit-Tech
...and viewers outside of our small island have no chance whatsoever of viewing it either.

I think youll find that people outside the relm do have a chance. Thats how i manage it!
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sir Digby
Ah

A subscription to the iplayer for other countries would indeed be an excellent idea

Indeed, As stated above i have ways of bypassing the Geo-IP but it means that im effectivly paying for a subsciption anyway just the money isnt going to the BBC.
I would happily switch over if the option was there (and it was linked with channel 4).
Flibblebot 7th February 2009, 12:47 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by LAGMonkey
...and it was linked with channel 4
Unfortunately, that's not going to happen. The MMC (Monopolies & Mergers Commission in the UK) has just turned down a request from a consortium consisting of the 4 traditional terrestrial providers (BBC, ITV, Channel 4 & Five) to provide a video on demand service, as it was seen as monopolistic behaviour.

This despite the fact that about the only other VOD services in the UK are provided by Virgin, the incumbent cable provider, or BT, the incumbent telecoms provider :(
ZERO <ibis> 8th February 2009, 00:25 Quote
This aught to give some more power to people in support of net neutrality, showing that it clearly is a present issue that needs to be stopped now before it is too late.
quake1-rules 8th February 2009, 13:23 Quote
Guys, this article is making a problem where there is none to worry about.

Put it into perspective of TV service. Did two (or more) TV standards ever evolve where you had to buy a certain type of TV to watch ABC and a completely different TV to watch CBS and yet another TV to watch NBC? No. Ultimately it is in these companies' best interest to have as wide a distribution as possible. I feel that if CBS suddenly decided that you needed to buy an 'approved' Sony TV that CBS would probably hurt themselves greatly, but that it is their right to make a dumb decision. That's because I believe in freedom and that "things work themselves out with patience."

Freedom is far more important to me than being able to watch ESPN and no, watching ESPN does not equal freedom. Watching ESPN needs to be viewed as a fruit of freedom, not a birthright. Considering ESPN as a birthright sets a very dangerous precedent. I do NOT want to live in such a country.
quake1-rules 8th February 2009, 13:41 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Diosjenin
Except that this isn't a situation where you can change over to any ISP anytime you want. I know where my parents live, Comcast is the only available option.

This is the main issue that we are really dealing with here and that Net Neutrality advocates need to address (but aren't). This is that there are government-backed monopolies all across the country. This is why Cable and phone companies already do control to what we have access and have done for decades. This is a local government issue. Contact your county representatives and demand that they re-negotiate with the cable/phone companies that they can not filter traffic like this. Do it systematically and organize together to make it happen across the country.

Alternatively, demand from your elected representatives who support and back these ISP monopolies that they end the agreements with Comcast/Cox/Verizon/etc/etc. These companies will balk and make all kinds of threats but watch, if it is done right, no one will lose service and competition will flourish and people will gain freedom to choose what service (for a price, I'm sure) they use.

I agree that what I propose here is a bigger hurdle than the federal government passing a 'net neutrality' bill, but I assure you it will actually work, unlike a law from Congress. I assure you, Congress is already bought and sold. They won't help you. This is why the current crop of Net Neutrality advocates are wasting our time. Net Neutrality in its current flavor WON'T WORK. You can make laws to make things illegal but people (the corporations) will react accordingly. I promise you that.
Dreaming 8th February 2009, 14:25 Quote
Is this even legal? I mean, if you have a website in the public domain, are you even allowed to restrict access to people who sign up to certain ISPs? Would another company be allowed to block phone calls from people who have certain phone lines?

The internet, honelines, are a national utility, there should be no prerequisite of having to get certain ISPs to access content. Fair enough if you need to pay to get premium content that's a different matter.

I think if you challenged it in court it could fall down.
quake1-rules 9th February 2009, 02:27 Quote
Quoteing Dreaming: "The internet, honelines, are a national utility"

No, they aren't. The government didn't build them and doesn't own the Internet. This isn't the USSR, Cuba or North Korea.
Flibblebot 9th February 2009, 10:43 Quote
So you think you need to be a communist country to have nationalised utilities?

Until the mid-80s & 90s, when they were privatised, all of the UK's utilities were nationalised: electricity, gas & phone (as well as other services like the trainlines, healthcare system, steelworks & coal mining) were all nationalised industries - yet the UK has never been a communist country.
n3mo 9th February 2009, 12:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Flibblebot
So you think you need to be a communist country to have nationalised utilities?

Until the mid-80s & 90s, when they were privatised, all of the UK's utilities were nationalised: electricity, gas & phone (as well as other services like the trainlines, healthcare system, steelworks & coal mining) were all nationalised industries - yet the UK has never been a communist country.



And what is more, we (the post-communist country) had a little problem with our Big Bad Monopolist a few years back... took a huge beating from anti-monopoly comissions and was almost reduced to ashes. As the time goes by, It becomes more and more obvious that the post-soviet countries have way more freedom than you Brits ever seen.

On the topic: This will fail miserably. Restricting potential userbase never worked good for any company, as soon as the investors see the actual profit vs potential profit with unrestricted userbase, the ESPN will open their arms for everyone.
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