I know. You see the phrase net neutrality and either your eyes glaze over because of the minutiae or because the concept is so wonky you don’t even know where to begin. That’s likely why the most recent news about the FCC accusing Verizon and AT&T of violating net neutrality rules probably slipped under the radar of the majority of sports fans. However, if you’ve grown accustomed to using Go90 on Verizon to stream NBA league pass without the worry of using up your data, you might want to pay attention to how this all plays out.
Let’s start with the basics. This past October, Verizon offered customers that pay for it’s L plan or higher the ability to access NBA League Pass via mobile through a service called “stream pass” on its Go90 video platform app. The NBA streaming is not only free, but it doesn’t count toward your data utilization for each billing cycle. In addition, consumers can also receive five weekly NFL games and over 1000 international soccer games as part of their content not charged to their data plan.
For sports consumers, this is a fantastic deal. This “zero-rated” content, when data use doesn’t count against your monthly allotment, provides a great deal of value without any additional charge or worry about using up all of your data each month. In a vacuum, it’s truly a win-win for sports fans that happen to have Verizon as their cellular provider.
However, the FCC is concerned this sets up potential preferential treatment for those services owned or wholly controlled by the telecommunications companies. In this case the FCC argues that Go90, which is owned by Verizon, is receiving preferential treatment over other apps thus violating one of the rules of net neutrality.
As a sports consumer interested in viewing the NBA, you may not currently care about this. However, the argument is that creating this type of uneven playing field for content and content providers could create unfavorable situations for consumers in the long run. While sports streaming content providers such as Twitter and Yahoo! can and would likely pay to have their content exempted from counting against consumer’s data, other less financially robust companies may not be able to do the same. This potentially opens up a tiered system for content access controlled solely by telecommunication providers. Whether that’s simply the quality of your sports stream being degraded because your app didn’t pay or you reaching your data limit because your content wasn’t exempt, remains to be seen.
Of course, Verizon and AT&T have lauded their zero-rated plans as giving consumers more unburdened access to the content they want. For sports consumers, that certainly is currently the case, but it remains to be seen whether these companies are being as benevolent as they claim.