How Losing Net Neutrality May Affect Live Streaming

Opinion article by John Espey

Now that the FCC has decided to remove net neutrality, and re-classify the internet away from a public utility and more of a private service, we may see interesting changes to the way we live stream and also view content.

Let’s first break down the actual stages of live streaming to see where we may see a change.

First, there is the source of the signal, like your event at a well known hotel.  The hotel is paying for a very fast internet connection and providing a fast connection to your event so you can have attendees tweet, email, and the AV crew can live stream.  For the moment, that connection is just fast and whatever you choose to do with it is up to you.  Moving forward, the hotel may have to strike a special deal with their provider so they can in turn sell and offer a special live streaming internet connection for your event.  This is a service, requires administration, and will very likely cost you more to use.

Second, there is the content delivery network (CDN).  The CDN receives your uploaded live stream and handles it in a variety of ways.  It can re-compress and distribute as needed to viewers any where in the world.  In theory, this is happening on the internet, but within the network of a data center, so it has already made it to its ultimate destination.  I don’t think we will see much change here as it is the same video processing we already use.

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Third, there are the viewers at home.  Also viewers on mobile, in cafes, another hotel room, or on wifi in the same room.  That connection may be a personal account or provided for them.  Depending on the speed of that connection, the CDN will deliver a different bitrate and resolution of video.  So if you are sharing a slow connection in Starbucks, then you may only be able to watch the video in a low standard definition quality.  It will look blocky, jump frames, and the audio sound compressed.  Unfortunately, this was already true with net neutrality, and there is no reason it will change after.

So what about other live streaming providers like Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Twitch, etc?  These companies are doing well financially and likely have very fast connections they pay a lot of money for.  It is unlikely they will lose their speed.  Facebook and YouTube may be totally unaffected as they have been building their own CDN for live streaming.  What is more likely, is that attempting to stream one onto the other will be so painfully slow and cumbersome, that we will be forced to choose one or stream to all simultaneously.  The latter is technically against Facebook policy.  Then, each will favor streams on their own network over others and improve their user experience.

Facebook will deliver live streams on their page faster and clearer than posting a YouTube live on Facebook.  This is an incentive for us as content creators to use their platform above others.  Incentives for customers come in the form of cheap prices and better perks.  But Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch are public, so your popular stream generates engaged audience views for… you guessed it, advertising!  This makes money for the parties involved.

Vimeo, Ustream, and Livestream can be public, but offer paid white label password protected options too.  This is great for internal company meetings, but it already costs money, and since businesses (with deeper pockets) are paying, may cost more or at least the price wont be driven down as fast.  Perhaps cost will stay the same, but now they will offer a fast lane for you above public streams, in affect improving the quality of your video!

It almost sounds like losing net neutrality may actually improve live streaming?? I think that depends a lot on consumer confidence.  If businesses are feeling confident that live streaming is worth it and companies provide enough perks for paying for it, then I am sure the quality and quantity of live streaming will improve.  However, if businesses and consumers are feeling stressed by added costs, then we can assume live streaming in very high bitrates at fast frame rates is going to take more time.

I was looking forward to seeing the adoption of 4K streaming in 60fps.  With H.264 encoding, we would need an upload connection of at least 50Mbps.  We need to know if ISP are going to be able to provide this connection at a price companies are willing to pay for.  Again, all about confidence.  Price may not really mean much if companies are feeling comfortable.  However, if something pops and companies tighten their belts, live streaming in 4K for a non-profit event is not going to happen any time soon.

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