It's the Bandwidth, Stupid

The nation's chief proponent of all things hi-def told lawmakers Thursday that bandwidth constraints are choking the nation's economic potential.
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The nation's chief proponent of all things hi-def told lawmakers Thursday that bandwidth constraints are choking the nation's economic potential.

"The real problem is infrastructure. If we don't go much further than where we are, we won't be able to compete globally," said Mark Cuban, the guy who netted $1 billion on the sale of broadcast.com and bought himself a pro basketball team. He later co-founded HDNet, the hi-def entertainment network launched in 2001.

Cuban was one of several witnesses to testify before the House telecommunications subcommittee in a hearing that often resembled an infomercial. Representing the Writers Guild and the Screen Actors Guild, Philip Rosenthal bemoaned the practice of product integration, whereby products become part of a storyline in a show for a fee. He ran a clip in which characters extolled the profundities of Oreo cookies.

The guilds simply want the networks to be more forthcoming about product integration, but lawmakers got stuck on the creamy filling aspect. Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) asked Rosenthal if an Oreo storyline was contributing to the nation's obesity epidemic. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) took it a step further and asked the witnesses if so-called "new media" could somehow stop "old media" from doing product integration in children's programming. Rosenthal sidestepped; Chad Hurley, the 30-year-old CEO of YouTube gamely speculated; and finally Ben Pyne, president of Disney and ESPN affiliate sales and marketing said, ahem, product placement of any kind in children's programming is illegal.

"But you want to do it!," Capps said.

"Uh, no," Pyne said.

Other witnesses included TiVo President and CEO Tom Rogers, who said cable must be stopped from using switched digital video, because it chokes TiVo boxes. Blake Krikorian, CEO of Sling Media described how troops in Iraq are using Slingboxes to watch their local TV stations. MediaFLO President Gina Lombardi brought a one-minute video marketing piece accompanied by pounding club music. Hurley testified that YouTube is "not about copyrighted material," while Cuban said words to the effect of, "yes it is."

Before returning to the bandwidth bandwagon, Cuban said his movie production company has spent more money in some cases monitoring the 'Net for pirated clips than the movie itself actually made.

Cuban urged lawmakers to foster economic policy that creates a national infrastructure capable of supporting 1 Gbps. He said last-mile fiber-to-the-home should be supported "in every way," and if that meant letting broadband providers control bit-rates, so be it. Proponents of network neutrality are loathe to allow price gradations for various bit-rates because they fear that network owners such as Verizon and Comcast will squeeze out high-traffic sites like Google and YouTube. Cuban said the money for fiber-to-the-home has to come from somewhere.

"Our beautiful capitalistic system is what propelled us to this point," he said.