Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hulu Plus coming to Android phones

Editor's note: Amy Gahran writes about mobile tech for CNN.com. She is a San Francisco Bay Area writer and media consultant whose blog, Contentious.com, explores how people communicate in the online age.

(CNN) -- At the just-ended Consumer Electronics Show, Hulu CEO Jason Kilar announced that Hulu is bringing its premium Hulu Plus service to smartphones running Android 2.2. He also demonstrated the Hulu Plus app during his presentation.

Fierce Wireless reported that "Hulu Plus for Android will include content from broadcast partners including ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC -- highlighted by series such as 'Glee,' 'Modern Family,' 'The Office' and 'House.' "

Hulu Plus, which debuted last year, costs $7.99 per month. I subscribe to it and watch it on my TV (cabled to my laptop). But here's the main reason I doubt I would get in the habit of watching Hulu Plus on my Droid Incredible: It's exactly the kind of service wireless carriers would probably want to start charging extra for.

The Federal Communications Commission left the door wide open for this sort of double-dinging for wireless content in the "net neutrality" rules the agency adopted last month. This could happen in two ways.

First, FCC rules essentially allow wireless carriers to charge content providers extra in order to ensure that their content gets delivered to users quickly. So a wireless carrier such as Verizon could decide at some point that it will deliver Hulu Plus only at speeds sufficient for a good streaming video experience if Hulu pays Verizon for that privilege. And you can bet Hulu Plus fees would increase to cover that expense.

Second, the FCC rules allow wireless carriers (unlike "wireline" carriers, such as Comcast's cable modem services) to charge users extra for certain kinds of content delivered across their network.

Journalist John C. Osborn recently explained this twist: "Since the FCC chose not to provide any protections to the consumer for mobile devices using wireless services, the plan by Google and Verizon to charge the consumer for premium content, particular competing content, can go forward unabated. This could lead to a gold rush on the wireless broadband front, where alliances between content providers and ISPs are forged in order to get favorable terms and exclusive content -- all to the detriment of the consumer."

This means that a wireless carrier such as Verizon or AT&T could decide to bill me -- the user -- extra in order to stream Hulu Plus to my Android phone. Maybe they'd bundle it in a package of premium content services. Maybe it would be a standalone charge for this service. But they could charge me for it.

Either way, I could end up being effectively double-billed for the same service if I stream that content to my phone via my wireless carrier.

It's quite possible that wireless carriers would never opt to implement those charges in a way that I would personally end up footing the bill. But the new FCC rules leave the door open for this. Frankly, I've already had enough issues with carriers adding mysterious charges to my mobile phone bills.

If you decide to try out Hulu Plus on your Android phone, be sure to check with your carrier first to see whether this will increase your bill in any way. And then double-check your bill when it arrives -- and keep checking it. Wireless carriers can implement these kinds of charges at any time.

Read More Click Here