The NCAA's plan to stream all out-of-market men's basketball tournament games online could be a boon for consumers, but a drag for Internet service providers.
A drag on the network, that is.
The popular March Madness on Demand service that debuted last year is back again for the 2007 edition of the tournament; only this time the resolution is expected to be 50 percent greater than last season. CBS and the NCAA have also added radio broadcasts and a half-time show to their offerings, which likely will make bandwidth use even higher than last year.
Joe Ryan, assistant general manager of Sunflower Broadband, said the company has been preparing for the streaming video event, but isn't sure what to expect.
"The on-demand portion online, though, is certainly going to be a lot busier," he said.
Though problems seemed sparse Thursday, it's possible that with more people at home Saturday and Sunday bandwidth use could be higher.
Ryan said Sunflower, which is owned by The World Company, publisher of the Journal-World, has been tracking its usage carefully during the past few weeks and has noticed interesting trends. Traffic spiked as tournament brackets were announced, but was much lower when Kansas University was playing Texas for the Big 12 Tournament title. This idea leads him to believe that as long as KU is playing, the bandwidth use won't be excessive.
"When KU is on, the computers are off," Ryan said.
These NCAA Tournament games are available on local channels.
Sunflower Broadband customers with the sports tier will be able to watch games shown on Channel 181.
All games, except the Kansas University game, may shift at the discretion of CBS, based on which games are nearing completion or are more competitive.
Today's gamesSlot 1:Channels 5 and 201 (High Definition), UNLV vs. Georgia Tech at 11:25 a.m.Channel 181, Virginia vs. Albany at 11:15 a.m.Slot 2:Channels 5 and 201 (HD), Notre Dame vs. Winthrop at 1:35 p.m.Channel 181, Nevada vs. Creighton at 1:50 p.m.Slot 3:Channels 5 and 201 (HD), Kansas vs. Niagara at 6:10 p.m.Channel 181, Texas vs. New Mexico State at 6:25 p.m.Slot 4:Channels 5 and 201 (HD), Kentucky vs. Villanova at 8:30 p.m.Channel 181, Florida vs. Jackson State at 8:40 p.m.
Allison Rose Lopez, public relations and communications manager for KU Information Services, said KU would be closely monitoring how its network handled the potential increase in bandwidth usage because of March Madness on Demand.
"We didn't see any appreciable degradation of the service last year," she said. "If that happens this year, we'll throttle it back."
The situation is especially sensitive at KU, where the network is already strained by overuse in the residence halls. KU added bandwidth to the residence halls during the evening hours, but between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, when at least 12 games will be streamed, the network is congested with on-campus academic traffic, according to a notice KU ResNet posted on its Web site.
Damon Porter, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable in Kansas City, which serves some communities around Lawrence, said it's important for users to realize that any slowdown in Internet performance could be caused by a number of factors.
"March Madness is going to be very popular, and a lot of people will be trying to access that Web site at the same time," Porter said. "The Internet wasn't designed for a number of people to be watching a two-hour streaming video at the same time."
But Porter said he believed the Time Warner network would be able to handle the extra traffic.
Ryan said Sunflower was prepared to acquire additional bandwidth if necessary as traffic ramps up through the tournament games.
He also pointed out that for subscribers with the sports tier and digital cable, one out-of-market game was available on Channel 181 in each of the four time slots today, as it was Thursday. Sunflower also is unique among most broadband Internet providers in that it limits what level of bandwidth customers can use per month without paying an additional fee.
Customers with premium service, which Ryan said would have the best experience using March Madness on Demand, have 30 gigabytes of bandwidth per month before facing additional charges.