Guess Those Wireless Networks Aren’t Congested After All

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If networks really were overloaded, would carriers try to cut special deals to bring even more streaming video onto them?


Last week’s announcement that ESPN was in talks with at least one major wireless carrier to exempt its video from data caps raised fundamental net neutrality issues.  But it also raised an important question about the robustness of wireless networks.  If wireless networks were really as congested and starved of spectrum as some carriers like to claim, why would they be negotiating to bring more video onto them?

Wireless carriers have long complained about their network’s inability to meet customer expectations.  It was proposed as a justification to exempt wireless networks from net neutrality rules and destructively consolidate the industry (both failed convince the FCC).  It also shows up as a reason to move away from unlimited data towards more expensive tiered plans, and generally to explain why carriers over-promise and under-deliver on service.

This history of griping makes it all the stranger that carriers would be negotiating to bring more streaming video onto their network.  If the networks really are strained, then bringing more video onto your network would seem like the last thing to do. 

On the other hand, if all of the strained network talk is really an excuse to impose anti-consumer price discrimination policies and consolidate spectrum, then charging a content provider to reach subscribers makes all the sense in the world. Of course if that is the case, any carrier considering those deals has lost any credibility when they complain about their customers clogging up their networks.

Image by Flickr user michaelb1.

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