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Why net neutrality matters to your business

Jonathan Hassell | June 12, 2014
Net neutrality is about more than individual consumers' rights to stream video over the Web without paying extra for it. Partitioning the Internet into haves and have-nots will give big companies yet another advantage over smaller, more disruptive firms. Speak up before your business gets shut out, CIO.com contributor Jonathan Hassell recommends.

It's not hard to envision a world where Comcast promotes and offers NBC content preferentially to its customers, perhaps even to the detriment of other entertainment sources that its customers might choose but that would need to be delivered over its network.

In fact, Comcast already puts this opportunity to work, striking deals with companies such as Netflix to offer service with less interruption and more availability to its own customers. Previously, Comcast customers had complained that streaming Netflix video was choppy and at times unusable. Indeed, a Wall Street Journal analysis found that Netflix's primetime performance over major ISPs dwindled over a period of three months from as around 2 megabits a second to as low as 1.5 mbps, mostly due to congestion because of the service's popularity.

Instead of being Comcast's problem - to actually provide the service it already takes money from its customers for - Comcast refused to permanently fix the issue, announcing that it believed Netflix should bear the cost of delivering its content to Comcast customers. Netflix acquiesced, making a deal with Comcast that resolves this congestion. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, recently said he felt his company was forced to make this arrangement for faster delivery of its service "because the deal was better than the prior state. We felt we had to."

Take even a minute to think this situation through and it becomes clear that it's patently absurd and illogical. Comcast's role as an ISP is to provide Internet service to its customers in exchange for a monthly payment. To then attempt to strike deals to be compensated for alleviating bottlenecks on its own network from companies on the other end of the pipe is nothing less than greedy double-dipping.

Comcast wants to be paid by customers for access to the Internet and then by Internet-facing companies for access to its network customers. As Hastings said, "They want the whole Internet to pay them for when their subscribers use the Internet."

Payola Ruined Radio; Will It Ruin the Internet?

How is this a good development for the Internet? How does this not result in a "fast lane" on the Internet, where big players with big pocketbooks continually provide payola to ISPs to make their content available faster (or even at all) while smaller companies with a potential to disrupt - you know, the startups that make the Internet an amazing marketplace - are edged out because they can't pay the toll?

This is a really big deal. If you're in any sort of communications, entertainment or service provider business, consider this risk. Assume for a moment that Comcast decides you have to pay a private peering fee in order for its customers - your customers, too, of course, but simply the set of your customers that use Comcast to access your services - to get unfettered access to your site or your service.

 

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