ESPN360 has recently discussed their plan to avoid facing the possibility that consumers do not in fact want to pay for their crappy programming.
Their overall goal is actually pretty simple. Make the ISP's pay a fee to even get to the website, selling it as a competitive advantage over other ISP's. This cost would then be transferred down to ISP users as effectively a hidden (or not so hidden) fee. This sort of approach bypasses entirely the pesky business of finding out that users do not infact give a damn about your website. It also transmits the cost to every single user of that ISP, because obviously everyone wants to go to the ESPN website, so you should all pay for it.
This argument falls apart pretty quickly, unfortunately instead thinking and telling ESPN to shove off a number of ISPs have made agreements of this nature. This will eventually become a serious problem for them, as ESPN's apparent success encourages more companies to travel this path. Which of course means higher costs for consumers regardless of whether they want the services or not. Eventually the only option will be a form of tiered servicing allowing access to specific sites, which would effectively foist this business model completely off the likes of ESPN and get back the network neutrality issues at the heart of all this garbage.
The strangest thing about this business model is it seems to miss the whole point of the way the internet allows data to move around. It relies on black mailing the ISP's into buying a service that you could simply ram down their throats via consumer uptake. Of course, this makes total sense if you don't in fact think your service will be that popular and want to get money out of it regardless but the days of allowing a fixture company exist because it always has is quickly coming to an end.
The Blue Pill:
The upside (or downside) is you only have about a 60/40 chance of getting ESPN online today (only about 40% of you do, and only in America according to the Wired Article on this topic). If you value ESPN as a sports news source (does anyone? really?) than well, I hope your ISP has sold out for your sake. For the rest of you out there at least your not funding this insanity. I've yet to check my work and home connections for this feature due to the ESPN site requiring a special plug in that I elected to not install but will probably do so soon.
The Red Pill:
In the end we can all hope that the ISP's realize they are going collectively mad with this approach to doing business. If they do, maybe ESPN will actually get it's head connected properly and stop trying make an end run around the people that actually watch their television shows and instead find a way to properly monetize their viewing public. Until then, the most you can do is check to see if you have access, and if you do, and don't want to be subsidizing somone elses entertainment write an angry letter to your ISP.