Government Controls on Streaming Media Premature
The Internet has fostered many innovations, almost all of them beneficial. Now, though, some newcomers to the Internet scene are suddenly coming in for strong criticism. These are companies that transmit audio and video content to consumers via a technique that has become known as “streaming media.”
This multimedia traffic is widely , and correctly , regarded as the future of home entertainment. But even before growing beyond the fledgling stage, it’s being characterized variously as a “cyber roadhog” and “scofflaw traffic.” And some critics are calling for controls over it , perhaps even government regulation.
It’s certainly true that streaming traffic, by its very nature, tends to take precedence over other types of data transmitted over the Internet. Most Internet traffic is sent in packets that are separated by seconds or just fractions of a second, causing no problems for the parties receiving them.
But streaming traffic is fundamentally different than regular graphics and text. It’s “rude” in that it refuses to yield the right-of-way when the Internet becomes congested with traffic.
But for streaming music or video to be enjoyed, it can’t be broken up into packets. Imagine listening to a song or watching a movie and having the flow constantly interrupted by one-second delays. That would ruin the experience, and few people would bother to listen or watch.
– Growth In Streaming
Media Looks Promising
What’s shaping up here is a battle between what can be called the New Web and the Old Web. The Old Web consists of those who are concerned with transmitting data and graphics; they’re saying, “Hey, these new guys are getting too good a deal, they’re taking priority over us old guys.” And the New Web backers are replying, “You can’t stop people from wanting to get music and video over the Web.”
As the founder of a company that is pioneering in the streaming media field, I have no doubt that streaming traffic will grow rapidly, perhaps even exponentially, in the next few years.
But I believe it’s far too early for the imposition of government controls on streaming. I haven’t seen any data that indicate the development of any serious Internet traffic jams caused by streaming. To the contrary, there are indications that Internet capacity is keeping up with skyrocketing traffic.
Rather than appointing Uncle Sam as an Internet traffic cop, I suggest that the gridlock anticipated by some streaming media critics can and will be averted by letting the private sector deal with the problem.
It’s already beginning to do so. Internet self-regulatory groups are studying the problem, and hopefully will recommend steps to address it. But before calling for controls over streaming media, the self-regulatory bodies should expand their ranks to include representatives of the public, those millions of consumers who want to get audio and video over the Internet.
Second, private enterprise should be given the opportunity to continue doing what it has already started , expand the Internet’s infrastructure to accommodate streaming media. There is a tremendous amount of capital out there, looking for promising opportunities on the Internet. Investments in the infrastructure for streaming media would appear to be among the brightest prospects for this money.
It’s very clear what’s needed in the way of infrastructure to accommodate streaming media. The Internet can be likened to the Interstate highway system: it can’t carry all of the traffic alone, so secondary roads are built around the cities it serves.
– Build System
For Dual Traffic
The Internet needs and should have a whole new, separate system of roads that parallel the main circuitry. Traffic on these roads along the edge would be handled by powerful computers made especially to serve up audio and video.
And who will pay for and operate these computers? I believe the larger Internet service providers will, because they will have the incentive to do so. I have in mind the broadband ISPs such as those offering Digital Subscriber Service. These companies are cropping up everywhere, and will provide a wide variety of services.
Alternately, streaming media may be handled on a geographic basis, that is, with servers in the major cities handling all of the streamed data regardless of which ISP is serving it up.
Still another way might be to have different servers for each type of data transmitted over the Web. At present, information downloaded from a Web site comes from a single “farm” of server computers. But in the future, information on a single Web page might come from several farms that are as much as several hundred miles apart , one providing text, another serving up graphics and still another transmitting video.
Ultimately, if streaming media becomes as popular as I believe it will, some system for preventing traffic jams on the Internet may indeed be required. If a person orders a movie at a time when the network is very busy, it might be necessary to say, “Sorry, try again later.” Or the customer may have to schedule the service desired, so the network will know in advance what the traffic will be at certain hours.
It’s far too early to predict how streaming media will affect overall Internet operation. Only if the situation got completely out of control should the government intervene. I’m confident that the self-regulatory groups and the free market system will make it unnecessary for Uncle Sam to step in and direct traffic.
Brzeski is chairman and CEO of STV Communications, Inc., Santa Monica. STV is a pioneer in the development of infrastructure for streaming media over the Internet.