The FCC’s ruling earlier this week to allow for the purchase of individual cable channels is the beginning of something that I have been predicting for a while, the unbundling of broadband access from the applications that run over it. This is the first step in basically allowing us, the consumers, a choice of broadband providers that is different and independent of the choice of the application and service providers that provide us services over the IP network.
To better illustrate this, imagine if you will, that your local gas company not only charged you for the gas provided to your home, but also dictated how high you could turn your oven, or which specific cycles you could use with your dryer. Sound crazy, no? But this is exactly what the phone and cable companies do – they charge you for both the delivery mechanism (either dial tone or cable service) and then dictate how you can use those services (in fact, it was only about 25 years ago, that the phone company began to even let you plug in your own phone into the wall jack). So far, Voice over IP (VoIP) has shown us how we don’t need the phone company to provide us with phone service. In fact, I can even get cable and/or DSL service and cut out the local phone company altogether. As phone, cable, and software companies roll-out IPTV services, it is not easy to see how the cable and phone companies are at a crossroads.
Before long, as long as I have IP service at home, I can shop online for phone service, TV and video content, and a bunch of other things that we haven’t thought of yet.
Critics (read: cable companies and broadcasters) of the plan indicate that this will kill independent channels that will not have enough audience to stay afloat. As a consumer who has no need for, say, five discovery channels, I say: a) Why should I subsidize them? and b) Who cares? While I do think that this will kill some small independent channels, I don’t think it will do too much damage to the TV production industry – because on demand will change the way we think about TV. The reason we need channels right now is because we haven’t mass-marketed the technology to deliver on-demand TV and Video. We need five discovery channels because someone might want to watch 8 hours of The Crocodile Hunter while another wants to watch American Chopper. But with on-demand, there is no need for channels, so long as the video is on a server out there and my TV has a way of downloading it. Because programming an entire schedule isn’t necessary, there is no need for broadcasting one – all we need is a good search engine for video, and a credit card account (Oh, so that’s why Google created Google Video ().
Let’s hope that the FCC wins this one, and our living rooms finally catch up to our server rooms as far as technology is concerned.