Net Neutrality Zone Trap

The dead puck era in the National Hockey began roughly in 1995 and lasted through the lockout of 2004. The dead puck era was marked by stifling defense and low scoring games as teams employed a defensive strategy known as the “neutral zone trap” (sub nom the trap). The basics of the neutral zone trap was that a team would dump the puck into the offensive zone and then mount little or no forecheck in the offensive zone in favour of placing all of their players in the neutral zone in order to impede the other team from advancing through the zone with the puck, which would hopefully lead to a turnover and a scoring chance. In order to make this strategy work the team employing the trap would impede the opposing team in the neutral zone restricting their ability to skate by holding, hooking and otherwise impeding and interfering with their ability to skate. Technically, these tactics were illegal according to the rule book but impeding type fouls such as these were rarely called unless the foul were committed on a player with the puck and/or took away a scoring chance.

In 2004 the NHL proceeded to lockout the players and would up cancelling the entire season. Coming out of that lockout there was seismic shift in philosophy that saw the league resolve to call the rules that were not enforced previously and did not allow teams to utilize those restraining fouls, in short, the league instructed the referees to call the interference and hooking. The result of this is that the neutral zone trap was no longer as effective as it once was and the game sped up considerably as players were allowed to move freely about the ice.

To continue the hockey analogy from above, net neutrality is a principle that states that ISPs should not be impeding the free flow of data on the internet by impeding or otherwise interfering with that data regardless of user, content, platform etc. A more formal definition from Wikipedia states that net neutrality: is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.

Another seismic shift in the landscape of the NHL happened last December when Rogers won the national TV rights to the NHL in Canada for the next 12 years by agreeing to pay 5.2 billion (with a “b”) dollars for those rights which included internet rights and the rights to platforms that have yet to be invented. While you might still change the channel to CBC to watch Hockey Night in Canada that is the limit of what CBC has to do with Hockey Night in Canada anymore, it is a Rogers owned and operated entity. As part of the new presentation Rogers has implemented several changes including new camera angles such as the sometimes revealing referee cam (even though the cam on the top of the referees helmet does look rather awkward). There is also a sky cam that zips back and forth across the ceiling of the building on a wire. Another innovation is the game center app whereby one can watch the games on their mobile device including the ability to act as your own producer by selecting which camera angle you want to look at. There is one major exception to this. That being that if you do not use Rogers as your ISP you do not have access to all the fancy innovations on the game center app. You can purchase the app, paying the same amount as a Rogers customer but you do not get all the options that a Rogers customer gets; ergo, it would seem, a gross violation of net neutrality principles.

In short, Rogers has ushered in a sort of dead puck era on accessing NHL game content because if you are not a Rogers customer, then you will be hooked, held and generally interfered with while navigating the principles of Net Neutrality in trying to watch NHL hockey on your device. While this behaviour has caught the attention of Roger’s chief rival, Bell, who has appealed to the telecommunications referee in Canada, the CRTC, no action has resulted from this as of yet. Net Neutrality is a topic that seems to have more currency in the U.S. than it does in Canada, although most Canadians would likely endorse the principles of Net Neutrality, it simply has not yet become a hot button topic in Canada. Combining Net Neutrality and hockey just might do the trick.

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