Sunday, February 25, 2024

SO LONG, NET NEUTRALITY. HELLO TOLL SUPERHIGHWAY

Beryl Morris
Beryl Morris
Beryl Morris has over 15 years of expertise in the gaming world with a master's degree in Interactive Media from USC. She provides insightful analysis across all major gaming platforms including consoles, PC, and mobile. Her passion shines as she critiques game design, storytelling, and gaming's intersection with technology, culture, and art. Morris is a respected and entertaining guide through the gaming industry's latest releases and trends.

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Today’s announcement that Apple is seeking a deal with Comcast to gain special data delivery priority on Comcast’s subscriber network (to feed video and content to AppleTVs) is the second part of the double-tap that marks the end of the beginning of the end for Net Neutrality.

The first was when, even though Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had spoken passionately about preserving a Neutral Network in February 2014, it became clear that Netflix had done a similar thing and paid for priority access on Comcast’s network to deliver streams in a prioritized class of data service.

These are only three companies we’re talking about here, so what’s the fuss?

NET NEUTRALITY
NET NEUTRALITY

Comcast 

For starters, Comcast is the country’s largest cable (and consumer internet) provider and is about to become the largest. The numbers are staggering. 39% of Americans get their internet via Cable Modems (source: NCTA), which is the largest non-cellular (which takes 43%) Internet access mode nationwide (DSL is in a distant second with 11%). 

Comcast is now positioning itself to become the largest provider in the most extensive terrestrial mode of Internet access in the US (Cox, Verizon and AT&T claim ~5 million subscribers each, which trails the Comcast-TWC goliath of some 30 million customers). In short, this level of market share means that Comcast’s Internet service will be the portal through which everyone needs to cram to reach customers.

Apple and Netflix

Apple and Netflix are the most valuable companies in America and the largest source of Internet traffic in the US, respectively. The articles linked the top point to three commanding data points that set both precedent and the trajectory of a trend line that essentially may make it trivial for any smaller ISP to follow suit and offer preferred data prioritization. As of last month, the snowball has left the top of the mountain.

Bonkers

What’s bonkers about this whole thing is that it was not, as many feared, a massive ISP clamping down on public Internet bandwidth and spinning up a pay-to-transmit speedy toll lane. Still, the complete lack of sufficient data infrastructure made actual customer traffic/usage so unbearable that content providers (i.e. Netflix), not the service providers (i.e. Comcast), were willing to pay to make the quality of their services stay up to consumers’ expectations, and perhaps better than the next guy’s.

Indeed, we see Apple and Netflix duelling in the streaming video space on Comcast’s not-so-dumb pipes.

This is bonkers. In the end, all Time Warner and Comcast had to do was wait and not have a robust enough network to support their customers’ needs. The congestion that resulted from customer demand in conjunction with the lack of willingness of the ISPs to properly peer their networks (and why would they?

It’s expensive and benefits their competition since they are both content providers for streaming video and content delivery services for the whole internet) lead the companies that want/need/rely on the “last mile” from Comcast/Verizon/etc to pay dearly to keep things running not better, but like they should or used to.

Others

I was part of a We The People Petition to classify Internet providers like Comcast and Verizon as “Common Carriers”, which got over 100,000 signatures and got an official response.

The FCC and the White House have a role to play here. So far, there is plenty of vague talk of support but little action that would suggest they are willing to take on the world’s largest media company with a tenth of the US population as cable customers (and Comcast is only one ISP).

Suppose the Common Carrier rule were to be applied to these ISPs. In that case, they might be compelled to create properly peered, robust networks capable of agnostic content delivery and perhaps would not be able to accept offers for prioritized services.

Conclusion 

As the Verge describes pretty well, we’ve allowed the most valuable resource of the modern age to become a tangle of private interests. We can fix it, but it’ll take work and put up against the most profitable companies in the world and their lobby power.

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