It’s no surprise that recent proposed changes to net neutrality rules have put activists and web-savvy consumers on the defensive. It is, however, surprising to see some large corporations jumping on the bandwagon in favor of net neutrality. Both Netflix and YouTube parent company Google have spoken out over concerns that compromising on net neutrality would impair their ability to deliver their services.
The proposed rule changes would grant internet service providers the right to charge different rates for different types of content. Opponents have argued that this would give ISPs the power to arbitrarily discriminate against content they dislike and to charge a premium in order to deliver certain types of desirable content. One of the first victims of this type of profiteering would likely be online video, which is why it’s not unusual to see major players in that industry weighing in on the debate. What is unusual is the manner in which companies like Google and Netflix have chosen to intervene.
Rather than lobbying congress as they have in the past when unfavorable rules threatened their profits, both online video giants have launched similar campaigns to publicly shame ISPs, and in the process, raise public awareness. Google now offers a report card for viewers’ local internet service. YouTube viewers are prompted to view this report, which rates the quality of their ISP for video streaming, whenever that streaming becomes uneven. Netflix has previously displayed a message when download speeds are slow, placing the blame for poor quality on the local ISP, although they have discontinued this practice in recent months, possibly as a result of threatened legal action by Verizon.
Both of these campaigns have the net effect of raising public awareness while simultaneously passing the blame for poor quality service onto ISPs. It would seem that both video platforms are hedging their bets, hoping to raise public sympathy while simultaneously preparing for what many experts see as the inevitable day when they will have to meet ISPs’ demands by paying for so called “fast lanes” to deliver their video content at a reasonable speed.
One open question in this dispute is whether both video giants may be inadvertently acting against their own best interests. While both Netflix and YouTube would certainly chafe at having to pay the internet service providers’ ransom in order to distribute content, both companies are well capitalized leaders in their industry who could certainly allow for an increased cost of doing business. One seemingly unforeseen benefit of non-neutral net is that the cost of distributing video content would make it difficult, if not impossible, for an innovative start-up to compete with either video giant. Given that both YouTube and Netflix already face looming threats from legacy internet companies like Yahoo and Comcast, they might be wiser to let ISPs choke out competition from start-ups likeVessel.
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