Earlier this year you might remember how smaller ISPs were annoyed
with ESPN's business model for their "ESPN 360" online video service. The sports network has been striking deals with large ISPs, urging visitors to those sites to switch carriers
if they want access to ESPN 360 content. While bigger ISPs have apparently had no problem paying ISPs, smaller ISPs complain they have to pay more
than big carriers to carry the content. Brett Glass, operator of Wyoming WISP Lariet.net
has been particularly annoyed in our forums:
...the fee per customer for a small ISP like myself would be $0.79 per user, but would be substantially less for a larger one. (And universities -- which are themselves ISPs -- inexplicably get the service for free.)
So, our large competitors would have to raise their rates less per customer than smaller ISPs, giving them a big advantage. (ESPN also seems not to realize that ISPs' margins are tiny as it is. I make about $2.50 per month on a basic residential customer now, and so their fee would take an outrageous 1/3 of my profit.)
Back in June the American Cable Association asked the FCC to stop the business model. That's ironic, given the majority of carriers are usually busy complaining about government involvement in their business affairs. Glass, who is a vocal opponent of network neutrality, suggests either boycotting ESPN, or filing a class action lawsuit against the sports giant for "tortious interference with contract." Again, irony waves hello, given Glass is staunchly opposed to any
rules that would protect an even playing field for content delivery.
Consumer advocates haven't been too keen on the model, either. "Ultimately, if you carry it to its logical extreme — that’s everyone charging for their content, and depending upon where you are and which ISP you’re using to connect to the internet, your internet experience is different — that’s a really unsettling prospect," recently proclaimed
Ben Scott, policy director for consumer advocacy firm Free Press. "I think it undermines the foundational principles that make the internet such an engine of innovation and creativity."
Meanwhile, ESPN's list
of participating ISPs is quickly nearing one hundred different providers, as ISPs fear losing customers because they're not on board. Cox Charter and Windstream Communications announced their involvement this week. We wondered if ESPN's concept of selling content to ISPs instead of users would fail organically given the content itself doesn't seem that compelling (unless you really
like soccer, the Canadian Football League, or high school yodeling competitions), but so far that hasn't been the case.