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Major League Baseball Cries Foul on Net Neutrality Proposal

The league says the fast-lane proposal is a bad idea since consumers are likely to pay the price.

Count Major League Baseball among those who aren’t wildly excited by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to allow broadband providers to offer fast-lane Internet access to content companies.

Last week, the sports league’s digital media arm told the FCC that the controversial fast-lane net neutrality proposal was a bad idea for several reasons, one being that the added costs to content companies to use those fast lanes would likely ultimately be passed along to consumers.

“Fast lanes would serve only one purpose: for Broadband ISPs to receive an economic windfall,” MLB’s Advanced Media unit wrote in a filing. “American consumers would be worse off as the costs of fast lanes are passed along to them in new fees or charges where there were none, or higher fees or charges where they existed.”

MLB’s objections have been mostly overlooked so far, as they were buried among the more than 1.06 million comments filed in the past few months about the unpopular plan. Last week, a rush of last-minute comments crashed the FCC’s ancient filing system and prompted it to extend its deadline a few days.

As far as we can tell, MLB is the only sports league to raise objections about the proposal. Net neutrality is the principle that broadband providers shouldn’t be able to block or discriminate against legal Internet content. The agency’s previous rules were tossed by a federal appeals court in January.

It might not be immediately obvious why Major League Baseball would care about this, but the league’s digital arm has become one of the largest over-the-top streaming video providers in the U.S.

MLB’s media division is expected to bring in around $800 million in revenue this year, up roughly 14 percent over last year, as the company has expanded the amount of live video it streams each year.

Baseball’s online streaming service allows fans to watch games live on PCs or mobile devices. Subscribers pay upward of $120 to watch a full-season package of games on a laptop or wireless device. The service is generally most attractive to fans who don’t live near their favorite team(s) because it doesn’t allow the user to watch MLB games that are aired on local channels.

Between the company’s streaming game service and related wireless apps, MLB is expected to have about 3.5 million subscribers this year. Forbes recently looked at how MLB’s digital media division has grown since launching 12 years ago.

The unit also provides behind-the-scenes live streaming services for other companies, including the WWE and ESPN. This year, the company is projecting it will stream about 400,000 hours of live programming, according to Matthew Gould, an spokesman. Less than 20,000 hours of that is expected to be baseball-related.

MLB and Netflix were among the major Internet video content providers to file comments with the agency about the net neutrality proposal.

Major media companies, for the most part, didn’t file comments. One exception was Comcast*, which owns NBCUniversal, and told the agency it supports non-discriminatory net neutrality rules but doesn’t like the idea of reregulating Internet lines.

* Comcast’s NBCUniversal unit is an investor in Revere Digital, Re/code’s parent company.

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