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Cable Technology Feature Article

January 24, 2014

Video Impact on ISPs: More Questions than Answers

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

It still is not clear how growing consumption of video entertainment on fixed and mobile networks will affect the ISP business model. Nor is it clear how growing use of connected TVs will affect ISP business models.

At a high level, Internet-based consumption of TV makes the broadband connection more valuable, drives much more usage, and therefore could provide incremental revenue. The issue is that it might not be easy to correlate retail prices with the amount of new usage.

The problem is easy enough to illustrate. If Internet delivery displaces even half of linear TV, ISP bandwidth will grow two or three orders of magnitude, depending on the resolution at which that video is delivered.

Does anybody really believe consumers are willing to pay two to three times more, for Internet access, than they presently do?

In fact, one might already predict that “connected television” is going to be bad for satellite TV provides, since satellite TV largely is linear, and Internet-connected televisions require a network that can support non-linear content and interactivity.

Conversely, over the top delivery of video entertainment will become the chief potential opportunity and risk for ISPs, both mobile and fixed.

The opportunity is the chance to sell bigger usage buckets; the risk is the need to supply huge amounts of new data, but an inability to charge for the higher usage. Uncompressed high definition TV requires bandwidth of 50 Mbps.

One might argue that the high use of third party Wi-Fi connections by smart phone users, encouraged by mobile service providers, points out the problem.

Without the ability to offload video traffic, mobile service providers might quickly find themselves in a position where users are unhappy about inadequate usage plans, but unwilling to pay dramatically more for service.

At 24 frames to 30 frames per second, this might represent 11.25 Gbytes for a minute of video. Even when compressed, such amounts of data illustrate why video entertainment generates most of the actual demand on backbone networks, and is starting to represent the biggest source of usage for mobile and fixed ISP networks.

Telecom service providers and Internet service providers potentially are affected by video entertainment in a number of ways. Transit and peering agreements can be upended if one network suddenly becomes a supplier of Netflix content, for example.

Where a network had been peering, partners might want to shift to transit, since traffic flows that had been roughly symmetrical become asymmetrical.

There might be new questions about whether Internet-delivered programming of the sort historically viewed on broadcast television must comply with regulator content rules.

“Asymmetric regulation across services can have the effect of creating a competitive advantage for incumbents and potentially limiting the opportunities available for consumers,” according to an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report.

That drives the desire for a “technology neutral approach” in the design of regulation and its administration by regulatory institutions. Typically, the unstated corollary is the desire for a business competitor neutral approach.

So far, the issues are clear enough, even if an OECD report suggests solutions have yet to be developed.

Edited by Ryan Sartor

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