Netflix pays the first toll under the Internet bridge

Basement Beat
By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

Imagine that: the first major fealty has been paid to the Internet kings.

Comcast being the king, Netflix paying the price. (Actually, customers will end up paying the price, in the parlance of everyone who’s ever whined to me about tax increases on businesses. Isn’t that the eternal argument? That businesses don’t pay taxes, their customers do?)

This is what a world without net neutrality looks like. Internet service providers, or ISPs, get to charge some companies more and others less based on which ones they want to promote/extort.

Here’s how Comcast described the agreement/ransom payment.

Netflix, facing declining downloading speeds for its customers, swallowed the bitter pill and ponied up. Then its CEO took to the company blog to explain exactly why this was going to suck—eventually—for all of Netflix’s customers and for all of the customers of the companies that aren’t as big as Netflix and can’t pay Comcast’s ransom.

The key point in all of this is: the ISPs have the leverage. No law forces them to play fair. A business’s primary function is to make money. The ISPs therefore use their leverage to make more money.

ISPs like Comcast have leverage because a vast number of their customers don’t have another option if they wanted to switch to a competitor; this is especially true for rural areas such as Allegan County.

The free hand of the market is all well and good until it’s the only hand around and it’s slapping you. (I’m pretty sure I didn’t come up with that one; I’ll guess I heard it first from former County News reporter Tim Keith.)

I understand Comcast’s perspective. They invested the money in laying the cable. They think they should be able to charge whatever they want from customers to use it.

If we had several cable companies connected to every home, this wouldn’t bother me. Because that would mean if one started charging too much, I could switch to another. I would at least have that option.

Since I don’t, I’m stuck with less reliable (satellite) or slower (DSL) options that can’t compete, and I have to pay whatever the ISP demands.

The reason I want net neutrality is all of this feels like cable companies get to change the rules as they go along.

It’s like they’re a grocery store that said, “Hey, come shop for all your grocery store needs.” Then, when we all wanted to spend most of our time in the frozen food section (my stand-in for Netflix), they saw huge bottlenecks develop.

Rather than expand the frozen food section to accommodate their customers, they decided to make it more expensive for the frozen food makers to sell their products in the store.

And it’s legal for them to do so, right now.

I believe it shouldn’t be. As the Internet becomes more and more central to our lives, how much longer can we afford to let these companies exploit us?

Write your congressman and demand net neutrality: http://upton.house.gov/ and follow the “Contact Fred” links.

New website, new content: “Basement Beat” (a riff on my column’s name) will give me a chance to mention all of the interesting stuff I never otherwise get a chance to mention in my column in the paper. Questions you want me to answer here? Email me: rmlewis@allegannews.com.

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