Now they want Device Neutrality?

Jeff Lawrence, the CEO of PlayOn, wants to add yet another definition to the list of government protected industries in the catch-all concept of “Net Neutrality”.  PlayOn wants to add itself to the list of endangered innovators that can’t seem to cut it in the currently red hot startup market without some government assistance so it is demanding “device neutrality”.

To make his company’s case, Jeff Lawrence starts with the following proclamations that illustrates how the concept of Net Neutrality is already so disconnected from reality.

Jeff Lawrence – While today’s Net Neutrality debate is surrounded by a much more complex information infrastructure, the same basic principles apply. A consumer’s right to access information to which they are legally entitled is protected, and content carriers may not prioritize one customer or content provider over another.

So Lawrence is claiming that “content carriers” (network carriers or Content Distribution Networks) are forbidden from prioritizing some customers or content providers over others.  But the reality is that network carriers routinely prioritize business class customers who pay a substantial premium for network connectivity over residential customers who pay comparatively little for equivalent bandwidth.  Content Distribution Networks, some of whom also act as network carriers, routinely sell priority distribution to content owners/distributors who pay for premium delivery.

Lawrence then goes on to further disconnect Net Neutrality from reality by extending it to device neutrality.

Jeff Lawrence – I would also argue that the legal protections around how content is delivered should also, logically, be extended to how that same information is consumed.

When we get to the bottom of it, Lawrence is just angry that the television networks are blocking free transmission of content to devices like the Apple iPhone, Google TV, PlayStation 3, or Boxee.  PlayOn makes software that attempts to circumvent these restrictions and the content owners are fighting back.

Jeff Lawrence – In essence, content which customers are legally entitled to for free is being blocked on third-party devices and consumers are forced to pay a subscription just to access that content on those devices.

So Lawrence is essentially asserting that consumers are “legally entitled” to receive streaming video content on any device of their choosing.  But the reality is that content owners get to define the type of devices that their transmissions can reach especially when the production and the digital delivery of that programming costs a substantial amount of money.  Not everyone may like these restrictions, but a property owner is free to give to whomever they choose.

If a restaurant owner offers one person a free meal for whatever reason, it doesn’t mean everyone else is entitled to the same free meal.  Software makers can choose to enable certain features for certain devices.  Skype at one time made their 10-user voice conferencing software only available to computers with Intel processors because Intel helped Skype in one form or another.  It is no different than bundling “free” software with a particular device and it doesn’t mean that other device makers are entitled to that same software for free.

Content owners blocking devices or even entire Internet Service Providers is nothing new.  ESPN had been blocking entire ISP networks from accessing ESPN3 (formerly ESPN360) since at least 2006 unless those ISPs paid a per-subscriber fee to ESPN.  Google hypocritically argued against Hulu blocking Google TV when they had been blocking Syabas from accessing YouTube.

If TV networks decide that they want to give away content on TV sets and personal computers but not embedded or mobile devices, they are exercising their property rights.  This business model may or may not survive, but the market will sort that out and the government should not be in the business of picking which business model to kill especially when the streaming video market is just burgeoning.  Net Neutrality is vague and unrealistic as it is without adding device neutrality and device regulation to the mix.