A recent lawsuit opened the doors for major telecoms to being pay-to-play schemes and traffic throttling. Netflix has been a company that has been vocal and outspoken about its disapproval of the efforts and threat of major telecoms essentially shutting down the internet. The company once threatened to mobilize its 44 million customers against the telecoms if they suspected they were throttling bandwidth from Netflix. Now, Netflix has agreed to pay Comcast, one of the largest ISPs in North America, for direct access to its network.
This could be the death knell for the modern internet.
The problem rests in the fundamental understanding of how traffic on the internet should be treated. Essentially, when you pay for an internet connection you pay for a certain amount of bandwidth that will be made available to you. Bandwidth is how much information you can access at a given moment, it’s the rate at which data is transferred.
Before a recent Supreme Court decision, you would be able to access data from a website as fast as your bandwidth would allow. After the Supreme Court decision, telecoms are able to limit the rate at which a site or service is able to send information to you.
The telecoms want to be able to charge for traffic both coming and going, basically.
The recent agreement between Netflix and Comcast throws serious doubts on the ability of these internet companies to lobby or influence the future of the web. Netflix and Comcast have remained fairly tight-lipped about the details of the agreement. What is known is that Netflix will be paying Comcast to position its data closer to the end user and thereby ensure that the user experiences more consistent transfer rates.
Following in Comcast’s footsteps AT&T will now offer “sponsored data” plans and even now there talks about Comcast merging with Time Warner to further the monopolization of internet connectivity.
What’s the answer? The Court’s response to the FCC v. Verizon suit helped suggest where the perils lie and how we may move toward a better standard. The answer is to establish that the internet is a utility.
Calling the internet a utility and classifying it as under the same regulation as telecommunications will increase the regulations that can be placed on the service, further requiring that the companies that provide the service continually improve it.
Netflix may have made a caveat to protect or improve its business, but the public should not have to make the same such concessions to their ISPs. Correct the misnaming of the internet and let’s call it by its rightful name: utility.
Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow him on Twitter @Joshual33.