net-neutrality

The FCC has continually attempted to salvage regulatory power in the face of last month’s court decision. While the fate of net neutrality remains undecided, in the legal sense of the word, ISP’s and Internet-based companies are starting to make some very non-neutral moves. Netflix is buying preferential treatment from Comcast, and Verizon is circling with its hands out too.

Net neutrality is a simple concept: Everything moves as fast as its servers will allow. No throttling or boosting services for political, corporate or financial gain. But according to Jon Brodkin, senior IT reporter for Ars Technica, Netflix’s speeds have been dropping on Comcast and Verizon networks for months.

That’s not to say that ISP’s are throttling Netflix, at least not directly. Comcast and Verizon could simply slow down the progress of upgrading their networks. As Netflix starts to expand into ‘Super HD,’ and it expands its customer base, it is effectively held hostage by limited Internet speeds.

This leaves Netflix between a rock and a hard place in terms of net neutrality. Either the company can stay true to its politics, at the cost of its growth, or it can strike deals with ISPs like Comcast for a direct line to consumers. Netflix has opted for the latter, and while that’s good news for consumers in the short term, it could become a problem later.

These kinds of deals can lead to certain services and websites only working at their best on certain providers. But ISPs are notorious for carving up service areas, and thus a lot of consumers will only have one option in their area. If this kind of deal were to become the norm, competition among online services could be squashed. Startups would have to either pay the piper, or get stuck on a slow connection.

The whole thing could end up being a double edged sword for all involved. Perhaps Comcast will upgrade its networks with the money from Netflix, and the rising tide will lift all boats. But there isn’t really a best case scenario here; the Internet fast lane has arrived.

 Image credit: believekevin