What Net Neutrality Means for AV Integrators

7/30/2014 8:52:00 PM

It’s a hairy subject that any normal person has trouble making sense out of. When it comes to net neutrality, there’s a great deal of intricacies, legal jargon, and biased information propagated from self-interested parties (ISPs, cable companies, their lobbyists, and politicians).

Simply put, net neutrality keeps the internet free and open—everyone gets the same access to information. The FCC and cable companies want to set up “fast lanes” in which they can pick and choose what kind of information is transmitted at certain speeds. There’s been a good deal of finger pointing between Netflix and Comcast (and Verizon) concerning which one is to blame for slow video streams. (Although, apparently, this well-publicized spat, technically speaking, is not actually because of net neutrality. You can read an explanation of that here. I still find it relevant to the subject as a hypothetical illustration of what could happen if net neutrality protections are not imposed.)

But how does all this affect AV integration? There are many ways, depending on the markets you work in. For residential AV dealers, I spoke with Mike Maniscalco of ihiji about the issue, who shared a useful example.

Say you install an AppleTV for a client, maybe a wireless access point, maybe a little control. This is a basic, run of the mill install that is going to net you very little profit off the installation itself. “The challenge is the ongoing support,” Maniscalco said. “Because every time the client has trouble watching Netflix, the dealer is now responsible for that support call.”

The customer isn’t going to call Netflix or Apple; they’re calling you.

In the traditional custom AV installation model, you may have to roll a truck on a weekend just to troubleshoot the system. And there are many factors that could impact user experience, including the wireless networking, rebooting issues, and ISP quality.

“What net neutrality really does is makes this even more frustrating when you are trying to support it from the dealer’s perspective,” Maniscalco told me. “Because the customer could call and say, ‘My YouTube video is horrible. My Netflix video is horrible. You guys hooked it up; you guys should fix it.’”

A customer could be paying for Gigabit internet (100 times faster than today’s average broadband connection—read more about that here, but the service provider could be limiting that traffic stream to lessen the quality of the video stream. “They have that capability to do that, and it is now legal to do that, but the customer wouldn’t know they are being limited because ISPs are not telling the customer that,” Maniscalco said.

This leaves dealers stuck trying to figure out why the video is bad, and the customers are pointing fingers at the dealer while ISP tests show everything is good.

Good news, according to Maniscalco, is that Google has released a tool that ranks ISP quality.

In regards to the commercial AV world, there was a really stellar panel discussion about net neutrality recorded during InfoComm in June, hosted by AVNation and Josh Srago, along with panelists from videoconference service providers Blue Jeans, Lifesize, and Avaya. If you have any interest in delving further into this topic, I highly recommend you take the hour out of your day to tune in to this

Here are a couple of soundbites from the InfoComm podcast that I found most interesting:

“[Net neutrality] fundamentally changes the way the internet is consumed by consumers. You talk about the House of Representatives is meant to be debating this, as if they had any idea of what they’re talking about. It’s not even a topic these guys are remotely familiar with.” Simon Dudley, Lifesize

“Telco’s are trying to take back the telephony world that they have effectively lost. We’re getting caught up in that crossfire.” Simon Dudley, Lifesize

“Who decides what gets prioritized?” Bob Romano, Avaya

“I worry less about the consumer side because I think the value and the power of the internet delivered to consumers is such—and that’s a huge voice—and the second it starts getting affected, they’ll vote with their dollars—you will wake the sleeping lion. On the consumer side…We have this interstate that’s been built. The reality of it is that on the interstate, [there are] more taxes and more cost to trucks that carry more loads than there are to a passenger car. We’re going to see the same type of pricing and metrics on that going forward. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think we get that tangled up…on the carrier side, for those generating content, there is value in being able to ride that interstate, so there may be more charge for it.” Bob Romano, Avaya

Srago has written prolifically about this subject for months now. He’s a must read for anyone with an interest in delving deeper into this important issue. Check out all his blogs about it here

The FCC has been accepting comments on the issue, and although the open comment period has technically been closed, the website is still live accepting them, here. The FCC hopes to have a new policy in place by the end of the year. But until then, you can still make your voice heard. 


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