Net Neutrality Debate Heats Up for Cable Operators, According to ABI Research

The amount of spectrum needed for on-demand services such as video will increase significantly.

by / November 2, 2007
"In the near future, Americans will be poised to click their remote controls more, while cable operators enjoy this prospect less," says ABI Research vice president and research director Stan Schatt. "The introduction of network-based control -- such as nPVR (network Personal Video Recorders), start-over, and time-shifting -- as well as the increasing desire for VOD (Video on Demand) services, suggests that the amount of spectrum set aside for these on-demand services will increase significantly. As customers interact using their remote controls to send signals via their set-top boxes, bandwidth requirements will continue to increase for cable operators."

The festering debate over net neutrality will become heated as cable operators realize that many of the new, customer-demanded, advanced video and voice services from online providers are beyond the control of cable operators and their closed networks. Therein is potential that the spectrum requirements for DOCSIS data will explode, removing yet another chunk from the amount available.

The burden of supplying a broadband pipe adequate to support these services falls on the CATV operator. Although this is fueling the net neutrality debate, the current situation is one where broadband bandwidth on CATV networks will have to expand in the near future to accommodate customer demand. Any expansion of the bandwidth dedicated to broadband will be that much less bandwidth used for revenue-generating video services.

"One new service that could impact bandwidth combines voice and video for two-way video calling. Operators are concerned that services such as this, along with online gaming, will place enormous strains upon upstream bandwidth capacity," continues Schatt. "The argument from cable and telecom operators against net neutrality focuses on network strain caused by bandwidth-demand increases, which operators cannot control.

"If the customer uses data services for basic Web surfing and e-mail, demand for bandwidth is not a hindrance to the broader network spectrum capacity. But when customers use voice and advanced video services from online providers, the amount of data downloaded will cripple the bandwidth capacity of a network."

The recent ABI Research report Assessing CATV Bandwidth-Expansion Solutions includes an in-depth examination of the upcoming bandwidth crunch for cable operators, as well as several business model scenarios that assess the cost-effectiveness of various solutions. ABI Research applies these models to expanding spectrum and bandwidth on video networks.