The ongoing regulatory and commercial conflicts over the issue of net neutrality will increasingly affect public service broadcasters. As the broadcasters distribute more of their audiovisual offerings online, the question of quality of service and the future of the Internet as a whole becomes a crucial issue for broadcasters, according to Associate Professor Tanja Storsul at the Department of Media and Communication, the University of Oslo.
Storsul gave a presentation titled «Power perspectives on multiplatform public service broadcasting – neutral vs. differentiated networks» at a seminar on public service broadcasting and the Internet at the University of Bergen on April 26–27, 2007.
The conflicts connected to net neutrality are unresolved and the technologies and markets are evolving. Still, it is possible to discern between different probable scenarios, Storsul indicated. One of them is that public service broadcasters will have to pay internet network providers to ensure quality of service, and will have to enter into contract negotiations with all providers.
- Read the presentation: Download Storsul’s presentation (pdf, 1,5 MB)
Traditionally, an important part of the regulation of broadcasting has been the allocation of scarce distribution resources – be it on terrestrial, cable or satellite networks. On terrestrial and cable systems, governments can give priority to public service broadcasters. On the Internet, on the other hand, network neutrality has been the norm. All content, sites and platforms are treated equally. In the 1990s there was little debate about this, but from 2000 this has changed. Storsul displayed a video from the pressure group Savetheinternet.com as background to the current net neutrality disputes:
Three developments can explain the net neutrality conflicts, Storsul noted:
- Content providers want to get paid both from users and publishers.
- The use of broadband services for file downloading, video viewing etc. create capacity problems.
- Video and live services create quality issues that do not occur with «older» services such as e-mail.
The net neutrality debate has definitely been more present and heated in the US than in Europe, but recently there have been interesting cases in Norway as well. Storsul mentioned two: Canal Digital restricted P2P users — file sharers — at certain hours of the day. And directly relevant to broadcasting: NextGenTel reduced transfer capacity of NRK material for its customers.
There are different issues at stake for broadcasters, Storsul argued. First there is the quality of service question. It is hard for broadcasters to expand into for example web TV if services aren’t stable. That could lead to users having to pay (extra) to their broadband providers to be able to enjoy public service broadcasting over the Internet.
The larger issue concerns the future structure of the Internet. Will it be divided into a fast lane and a slow lane? What should broadcasters do, Storsul asked. If the Internet is differentiated, public service broadcasters might have to pay for quality of service. Moreover, they would have to negotiate and sign contracts with each network provider, which would be costly. Hence, how should the Internet offerings of broadcasters be financed? Users might face a separate licence fee for web TV, Storsul said. A pay per service model is also conceivable.
- Participation and Play in Converging Media: information on the research project.