Netflix is a content provider which has expanded service beyond mailing physical DVDs to subscribers to providing a huge library of content for streaming. Comcast, one of the nation’s largest cable companies and Internet providers, provides the pipeline to consumers that Netflix uses to stream its content.
As the New York Times reports, Comcast has attempted to levy an additional fee on Level 3 Communications, the tech company that actually provides the streaming service for Netflix. Comcast spokespeople say it’s a fair fee and is due to the heavy volume of streaming that one company generates.
But Comcast is a utility, a cable provider, and its function, by grant of their exclusive monopoly to provide that service to a specific area, must provide an even playing field. They may not pick and choose who may use the pipeline, nor may they speed up or slow down certain content
The FCC is investigating the situation, and I think they will pressure Comcast to relent and set up a fair structure for any fees. I do feel there is some logic to this; if this one company is using up to 20 percent of the available bandwidth, as the article says, it does decrease the space available for other content providers and their delivery speed — to have a fee associated with this usage does seem fair.
The problem, of course, is money, as Comcast earns no revenue when customers stream Netflix content. In fact, the streaming uses up valuable bandwidth space. If someone is watching content on Netflix, they aren’t ordering pay-per-view movies from Comcast. Cable companies like Comcast and Time-Warner generate huge sums of money on pay-per-view and do not want to have anything competing with that revenue stream.
The dispute goes to the heart of what is known as “net neutrality,” which means Internet providers like Comcast must provide an unrestricted pipeline for the Internet and cannot discriminate, so to speak, between what content comes over their system. The dispute is also shining some light on the proposed merger of Comcast and NBC/Universal, which is currently being reviewed by the FCC and the Justice Department. As the article says, there is the potential for Comcast to speed up the NBC shows it owns, and slow down the speed of other competitor shows, like those on Fox. Without FCC regulation, this could happen, and, as a viewer, I would suffer.
It’s a very slippery slope. I am against Comcast in this dispute, and feel the whole system of the Internet as we know it depends on this concept of net neutrality. Internet providers must provide a neutral system to allow any and all content over their system with equal speed. This also highlights a problem with these media conglomerates: When the content providers also own the content pipelines, you are bound to have problems, as they now have a business interest in certain content they broadcast. When Comcast is also a competitor to some of the content it carries, as a profit-seeking business, management will do whatever possible to benefit its content and negatively impact its competitors.
Brian Stelter “Netflix Partner Says Comcast Toll Threatens Online Video Delivery” New York Times via nytimes.com