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ISPs Add Smart Services to “Dumb” Pipes

ESPN360

Don’t expect the speed marketing wars or the HDTV channel race to disappear any time soon, but suddenly it seems the major operators are getting quite competitive with their other value-add services. Call it generosity or call it savvy marketing, I’m just thrilled to reap the benefit.

As a Comcast subscriber, I’ve made use of the free email accounts and free McAfee security software for years. I even used Comcast PhotoShow software (no longer available) for a while back in 2004. However, those benefits pale in comparison to more recent free service additions. Comcast, like Cablevision, has added free Wi-Fi at select train station hotspots, and, even better, Comcast announced just this week that it has signed a deal with ESPN to offer free access to ESPN360 online. Starting “in time for college football season,” I’ll be able to plug in my username and password and watch marquee sports online to my heart’s content.

The ESPN business model online is fascinating (and potentially troublesome) in that it requires a carriage agreement in order for a consumer to view the ESPN360 site. Setting that aside for now though, the concept that ISPs are adding on fantastic freebies suddenly takes us out of the realm where broadband price and speed dictate all. This is where broadband operators are hitting their sweet spot. Commodity service? Hardly. I expect we’ll see more and more experimentation where operators leverage their content relationships and technology assets (wireless, voice, etc.) to create bundles that look like anything but the plain vanilla broadband services of yesteryear.