Is Net Neutrality in jeopardy because of Google and Netflix?

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The general feeling among most of the Internet using public that pays attention to such things is that the neutrality of the Internet (aka Net Neutrality) is hinged on access providers, such as ISPs and mobile phone companies, keeping the access to bandwidth fair and even for everyone. This is the gist of what most believe Net Neutrality to be.

But now, cable companies (the primary provider of Internet access to most Americans) are saying something else. Far from sounding purely defensive, however, their thoughts are actually a compelling argument. Net Neutrality, they say, is threatened by Google and Netflix, not cable companies.

The premise is this: companies like Google and Netflix, which own large chunks of the storage and bandwidth capacity of the Internet (in Google’s case) and are huge users of that bandwidth (Nerflix), often dictate access to said bandwidth.

In a filing to the FCC, Time Warner Cable says that the controversy over Internet providers potentially charging websites for access to special “fast lanes” is a “red herring.” The real danger, the cable company claims, is that Google or Netflix could demand payments from Internet providers. Customers expect access to the most popular websites, and an Internet provider may have little choice but to pay up. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association agrees, filing a follow-up commentary on Time Warner’s claim.

They say “..a relatively concentrated group of large [Web companies] – such as Google, Netflix, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook – have enormous and growing power over consumers’ ability to access the content of their choice on the Internet.”

Their point? It makes no sense to focus all legislative or regulatory considerations only on service providers when access to the Internet, fairly, could be affected by those who use it the most and have control over the largest chunks of it.

While it might seem ridiculous (Netflix CEO Reed Hastings thinks so), the idea is at least worth pondering. Every story has two sides. This one is not likely any different.


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