Comcast Toll on Netflix Screams for Net Neutrality
By Tony Bradley
Comcast is opposed to efforts by the FCC to impose net neutrality guidelines on Internet providers. Ironically, though, it was Comcast that started the ball rolling on the net neutrality debate, and it may be Comcast that puts the nail in the coffin and guarantees that the FCC finally establishes some net neutrality rules.
Comcast fired the net neutrality “shot heard round the world” when it throttled BitTorrent peer-to-peer networking traffic. While the FCC did sanction Comcast for discriminating against specific types of network traffic, Comcast was victorious in appealing the penalty on the grounds that there are no formal net neutrality guidelines in place, and the FCC can’t enforce a rule that doesn’t exist.
The FCC proposed formally implementing a framework to guarantee that providers simply provide an open road to the Internet. The debate over net neutrality has raged on, with the FCC rumored to be ready to put it to a vote at its December meeting. Broadband Internet and mobile providers have maintained that the market can police itself and that no government oversight is necessary, yet major players like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast seem to take every opportunity to prove that argument false.
Comcast–which has its own on-demand streaming content and pay-per-view movies–demanded a recurring fee in exchange for allowing Netflix streaming media content to flow unfettered through its network. The fee–which Netflix backend provider Level 3 Communications agreed to pay to avoid service interruptions for Netflix customers–feels a lot like extortion a’ la paying mob “protection money” to avoid “bad things” happening to your business.
Andrew Jay Schwartzman, Senior Vice President and Policy Director of Media Access Project, issued a statement regarding the current Comcast issue. “Comcast’s request of payment in exchange for content transmission is yet another example of why citizens need strong, effective network neutrality rules that include a ban on such ‘paid prioritization’ practices. It is also yet another clear demonstration of why Comcast should not be permitted to acquire NBC Universal, given its clear tendency to exercise control in the video marketplace.”
The timing of Comcast’s extortion of Level 3 in exchange for delivering Netflix streaming media content, and the poorly-veiled connection to stifling competition for its own streaming media services seems almost suspect. With FCC action on net neutrality expected within weeks, the latest events with Comcast make a very solid case for why net neutrality is necessary and provide ample justification for the FCC to move forward.
If I didn’t know better, I would say that Comcast is actively lobbying in favor of net neutrality…and doing a damn fine job of it.
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