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In the media: TWC talks with LightSquared, defends iPad streaming

Fri, 03/25/2011 - 8:25am
Mike Robuck

According to published reports, Time Warner Cable is kicking the tires on using LightSquared Networks for its mobile Internet offering, while also defending streaming live video to its iPad app in subscribers' homes.

Bloomberg first reported that Time Warner Cable was in talks with LightSquared, the latter of which is backed by billionaire Philip Falcone's Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund.

As one of the investors in Clearwire, along with Sprint, Intel, Comcast and Bright House Networks, Time Warner Cable is currently offering mobile broadband access through Clearwire's WiMAX network.

Clearwire has been dogged by a lack of capital of late, which has caused it to scale back on additional build-outs in large metropolitan areas this year. Comcast said last year that it was unlikely that it would invest more money into Clearwire.

Both Time Warner Cable and Comcast resell Clearwire's service under their own branding, which means their rollouts will also be impacted by Clearwire's decision not to expand for the time being.

LightSquared's proposed wholesale LTE service will combine satellites with a terrestrial network, but it's still in the planning stage.

On another front, opposition seems to be coalescing against Time Warner Cable's iPad app that streams live shows into subscribers' homes. Time Warner Cable launched its TWCable TV app last week only to see it crash the first night due to a network overload on the authentication process.

Time Warner Cable also acknowledged problems with volume control and incorrect error messages, but the big-picture issue is that some of the networks whose content is being streamed have said that Time Warner Cable's current agreements don't cover videos sent to other devices in subscribers' homes.

The stakes are high for sending live programming to devices such as the iPad. Comcast has said it will follow suit at some point this year, but while cable operators want to keep their subscribers in the fold and away from over-the-top providers such as Netflix, they also need to maintain good relationships with content providers.

In a recent story by The Wall Street Journal, Time Warner Cable went on the offensive. Time Warner Cable chief programming officer Melinda Witmer said in the story that the cable operator was well within its rights to transmit TV videos to devices within a home because they were sent over its own cables and network instead of over the open Internet.

Witmer said the app only works when it's linked to a subscriber's in-home Internet connection, which is provided by Time Warner Cable.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Scripps Networks, Viacom and other networks have said the iPad app violates the contracts that are in place with Time Warner Cable. One unidentified executive told The Journal that Time Warner Cable was attempting a "land grab" with its iPad app.

"We don't define in our contracts what a viewing device is, because technology has always been evolving," Witmer told The Journal. "I don't know what a TV is anymore. It's kind of an anachronistic term."

Also complicating matters is that the bulk of the current contracts were signed before Apple released the first iPad last year, meaning Time Warner Cable and the content owners are in uncharted waters to some degree.

Time Warner Cable spokesman Justin Venech didn't respond to inquiries about LightSquared and the iPad app by deadline this morning.

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