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Net Neutrality Solution: Buy Something

Jeff Baumgartner
3/4/2008

Content makers that rely on speedy broadband connections are in favor of a more neutral Internet environment. As such, they argue that some network management techniques slow down its applications and could impair their business.

Count VUDU Inc. in the camp that's in favor of treating all packets equally. VUDU, which launched last October, uses a distributed network architecture to deliver a library of more than 5,000 movies and north of 1,000 TV episodes to special boxes outfitted with hard drives and high-speed ports. VUDU offers about 100 movies in HD format.

VUDU allows customers to download only one movie at a time, rather than downloading multiple movies simultaneously. VUDU’s platform uses a buffering system that allows customers to begin viewing a movie as it is being downloaded.

“That changes the whole bandwidth requirement on our end,” says Patrick Cosson, VUDU’s VP of marketing. “We’re only downloading the content you want to watch immediately. We’re not a bandwidth hog at all. We are very network friendly.”

For customers to begin “instant” viewing of a given title, he estimates they will need a 2 Mbit/s connection for a standard-definition title, and 4 Mbit/s for an HD-encoded movie. The upload requirement from neighboring boxes is less than 300 kbit/s. “The burden on the upstream side is very low, because we’re pulling from several boxes simultaneously,” Cosson explains.

VUDU has not disclosed any customer information or download data. “Consumption is probably more than what we expected. But we’ve seen nothing bad on the network side at all,” he claims.

Although VUDU has no control of the speed being delivered by a customer’s broadband ISP, it does encourage potential customers to measure their speeds on the VUDU site to see if they should expect to get a quality experience. (They also promote a diet rich in fiber and antioxidants.)

“We’re favoring network neutrality,” Cosson says. “It’s good for innovation and it’s good for the consumer. Anytime you have a gatekeeper, you stifle creativity and innovation."

Still, some question whether over-the-top players, despite their claims of innovation, are flawed from the get-go due to their lack of control over how (or how fast) their content can be piped to their customers.

“If you develop a business based on a service over which you have no control, that may not be the best business model,” Sandvine’s Donnelly says. “That lack of control is not a function of what service providers do or don’t do to manage their networks.”

This disconnect between broadband service providers and Internet video players has led some analysts to believe that the two sides should come together to hammer out business deals that can benefit consumers, and do so without government intervention. (See Eyeing New Models .)

Cosson says his company has not had any conversations with broadband ISPs about ensuring a particular quality of service when a customer is downloading a movie from VUDU. “We encourage users to have that conversation. They should be empowered to get what they pay for. If they buy a 6 Mbit/s connection, they should be getting a 6 Mbit/s connection,” he says.

Well, let's all just hope for the best, then. That'll teach 'em. — Raymond McConville, Reporter, Light Reading, and Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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