Net neutrality is something we’ve covered multiple times on The Fields of Green. We’ve covered it here, here, and well here. Now everything’s changed. The FCC has overturned net neutrality rules and now the marketplace will almost assuredly see some changes.
Before we really get into it, this is all theoretical. Maybe telecom companies really won’t change anything. Now, there’s a chance they will. It was much easier to know telecoms wouldn’t change anything when they legally couldn’t. Now they have the option.
Here’s the worst case scenario: the people who control the pipes start slicing and dicing what was previously free to stream — as long as the content was paid for — and make it all pay-to-play. Want to stream on the FS1 app? Please pay the telecom $5. Sunday Ticket streaming is free for AT&T customers, but the folks who have Spectrum have to pay a $10/month fee. Want access to change your fantasy team on the ESPN or Yahoo! app? Well Verizon has a deal with ESPN where users only have to pay $1/month, but Yahoo! users have to pay nothing because Yahoo! is owned by Verizon. Cord cutters who stream everything, well ESPN is $3, FS1 is $1, NBA league pass is $12, or buy a bundle of sports streaming for $10. The people who control the bandwidth can slice and dice as they please. This is probably on top of what the consumer is now paying for Netflix, Hulu, basic internet, Facebook, Snapchat and whatever else they use. Again, this is worst case scenario. It’s possible none of this happens, but I haven’t seen a public corporation eschew profits just because they want to be nice. Maybe that changes.
It’s time for leagues and media companies to start cutting deals now. The NFL just cut a huge deal to stream in-market games on Verizon’s service. Maybe that relationship has an effect on other NFL streaming games. The NBA already has a deal with Verizon as well. Prior to the end of net neutrality the deal only consisted of content and sponsorship. Now it could be much different.
There’s a reason almost every major league came out in favor of net neutrality only a few years ago. BAM Tech — formerly MLB Advanced Media — was at the forefront of the argument to keep net neutrality. Eventually a price increase can get passed on to consumers. That forces fans to make a tough choice. Do they want to pay $10 dollars/month for access to Facebook or $10 dollars/month for MLB.tv. Not everyone has a bottomless wallet and eventually this could become a zero-sum game.
The free and open internet as we know it, is probably gone, and that affects sports. It affects cord cutters who were streaming games. It affects the leagues that have their streaming services. It affects anyone with a digital presence. Again, maybe nothing happens, but there’s money to be made for telecommunications companies that are only beholden to their shareholders. We won’t know the long-term effects for some time, and maybe this isn’t a big deal once deals are cut and partnerships or formed. But, this wasn’t even a concern before. It is now.