Tuesday, March 20, 2007 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Is Video the Next VoIP?

By the time you read this blog, it's likely Pulver.com will have filed a petition with the FCC seeking to ensure that Internet video isn't regulated under Title III (broadcasting) or Title VI (cable) in the Communications Act. As Pulver's Jonathan Askin described it here at the VON Policy Summit in San Jose, it's the equivalent of the Pulver petition of a few years ago seeking protection for VoIP services from regulation. I haven't seen the new petition -- Jonathan said it would be filed at 9 am ET Tuesday -- but in general I am inclined to support less regulation rather than more. If Europe had such a policy in place, it wouldn't be able to consider an audio-visual directive that would impose broadcast-like regulations on the Internet.

That proposal, popularly known as TV Without Frontiers, was a topic of discussion on the panel I was on today. Ably moderated by 463 Communications' Sean Garrett, we touched on numerous issues, including the Viacom suit against Google, which dominated my recent panel discussion at South by Southwest. But this panel was far broader in scope. VON has traditionally been a conference about the Internet and voice, but this year they added the panel I was on to get a video perspective, and clearly Jeff Pulver and crew, the organizers of VON, believe video is the next VoIP.

Yes and no.

It is true that policymakers will be tempted to transfer broadcasting regulations onto the Internet, but as Jeff Jarvis on our panel pointed out, the First Amendment makes that tricky. Also, I believe Blair Levin pointed out in a morning panel that while Pulver's first petition kind of snuck up on the FCC because no one was paying attention to VoIP, everyone is paying attention to Internet video now. That could make the path more challenging for Pulver.

I raised another point. You could argue that in the world of telephony, all content is user-generated. Thus, the focus is on the transport, not the creation. That isn't completely true in video. There is user-generated content online -- my kids get a kick out of watching home videos of kittens and doggies doing silly things, and I'll admit I enjoy it too, in small doses -- but there is also a lot of video that cost lots and lots of money to produce, and would seem to be highly valued based on the advertising costs associated with it on traditional distribution channels. Thus, the thicket is far sharper with video than with voice.

But the thicket can be cleared. On another panel here, one about Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley, the Hollywood and Silicon Valley folks got along so well, moderator (and old friend) Paige Albiniak at one point said she wanted a cut from any business deals that resulted from the panel. Yes, there are many, many rights to clear, they agreed. Yes, it's proving very difficult to figure out how to place a value on online content. Yes, advertising models need to be worked out. A Fox representative described the current market as frothy, which is appropriate. But ships can sail on frothy seas, and eventually the waters calm if you sail long enough.

Someone here said that VoIP didn't cannibalize POTS service. It did eat into certain segments of the market, but it actually grew the overall voice market. I believe Internet video -- done with respect to copyright law and in the market -- will not cannibalize existing media but will grow that market, allowing everyone slices from a larger pie. I feel that even more strongly after hearing from the VON panelists today.

posted by Patrick Ross @ 12:36 AM | The FCC