Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Free Cable TV


I heard an ad on the radio today (and there is growing noise on the web) about the idea of cable TV channel choice. If you go to this page:

CWA - Cable Choice is Channel Choice

you can play the ads that are currently running and read more about the idea. See also this article from ConsumerReports.org.

The goal of this ad campaign is to pressure cable companies into giving consumers (us) the right to pick -- and pay for -- only the TV channels we want. So, instead of paying $40 per month and getting a "package" of 75 channels, we could pick, say, 10 specific channels and pay only for them.

What is interesting to me is this notion of "paying" anything for commercial TV channels. For example, if I want to receive the Discovery channel, why should I have to pay anything at all? The Discovery channel already has ads! What, we now have to put up with ads and pay cash -- whose idea is that??? I can understand paying for HBO because it is ad-free, but making people pay for the Discovery channel is nuts.

The way cable TV should work is that you pay $5 a month, or whatever, to cover the cost of bringing the cable feed into the house. Then you pay whatever the monthly fee is for HBO and any other ad-free channels you want. And then all the other channels (the ones like Discovery channel that are filled with 20 minutes of commercials for every hour of show) come in for free, because these channels make their money off of ads.

Then, in the ideal future 10 or 20 years down the line, we do away with the cable company altogether and replace it with a free wireless solution. For example, this article in the NY Times this week is interesting:

Where Entrepreneurs Go and the Internet Is Free

From the article:Think about the economics of a hot spot. If you run a restaurant, and assuming that you don't already have Internet access, you go get a broadband cable line or broadband DSL line brought in. That might cost $100 per month, assuming you get a "business line". The wireless hub is essentially free ($50 to $100 one-time cost), and it takes five minutes to set it up. Now assume that 100 people a day come in and use your hot spot. It is only costing 3 cents per person to provide this service. The restaurant probably pays more than that to supply customers with napkins, and I've never seen a restaurant charge for napkins. So why charge for wireless Internet access? If we could get everyone to do this, and if we could get a slightly better protocol than 802.11 (bigger footprint, more speed, ability to overlap hotspots better and move between them), then wireless access would be ubiquitous and free for everyone.

This is why wireless communication will eventually be free. This article is already talking about 1 Gb/second cards for laptops. This post talks about all of the emerging wireless broadband solutions appearing today. Instead of paying a cable company for a channel like Discovery channel, in 10 years you will simply go to the Discovery Channel web site, pull the channel up in a browser for free, and send the data off to your 60-inch OLED screen so you can watch it. [One nice side effect -- there will be millions of TV channels in this world -- no more cable TV tyrany restricting the number of channels.] If politics and corporate power don't get in the way, then all the major phone companies, all the cable TV companies and all the cell phone companies will die a natural death in this free wireless world.

[Postscript - See also this article in today's NYT: "The new TiVo technology, which will become a standard feature in its video recorders, will allow users to download movies and music from the Internet to the hard drive on their video recorder."]

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