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Net neutrality: the empires strike back

How much do the ISPs want? Doesn’t matter, as long as they get the info providers to pay something for delivery in one guise or another: the principle will be set so that they can squeeze them to pay more over time… they think.

So far, of course, the telcos are being restrained. It’s generally agreed that an ‘open’ internet is a good thing. That nobody should be prevented from using it or have their content blocked and telcos have even signed up to non-blocking as a principle.

But that said, there’s nothing to now to say that content providers shouldn’t pay for…. I dunno, guarranteed delivery without jitter, say. It’s not blocking, it’s just giving providers a choice about how much they want to spend to get that little bit of extra quality.

In other words there’s at least 50 shades of grey area that might be exploited by ISPs to differentiate quality and to try to persuade upstream providers to start ponying up the cash. There should be no outraged surprise about this, it’s what the telcos and their equipment and system providers have been openly planning (and telling us about) for years.

Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, for instance, has given notice that Netflix is not going to roll over at any attempt by the telcos to extort some cash from his company. Hastings is on record saying he would “vigorously protest” any such attempt.

In a letter to investors he noted the telco’s success at getting the net neutrality rules thrown out and wondered whether it was all about getting Netflix and others to pay directly for bandwidth. “Were this draconian scenario to unfold … we would vigorously protest and encourage our members to demand the open Internet they are paying their ISP to deliver.”

It’s unclear what sort of encouragement Netflix would offer its members, but it sounds like the company could consider orchestrating highly visible protest campaigns (perhaps fuelled by ads between its programmes?). Since legally protected net neutrality is now ‘over’ for both sides, it needn’t abide by any rules itself and could even threaten to cut off ISPs - perhaps offering a Netflix discount if customers moved to an approved access provider (where they could in the US - easier said than done). Just thinking it through.

Meanwhile Google is also readying its defense. First step - get your facts straight. To that end it’s launched its Video Quality Report website which sets the scene with users for ongoing monitoring of ISPs and their connections. Thus armed users will be able to choose the best providers (those that aren’t blocking Google) and complain when and if they think they are being degraded themselves.

The ISPs may be in the throttle position on the network, but the content providers know they have the nascent support of millions of users behind them. If you think the telcos just won the net neutrality war, think again.

Follow the writer on Twitter @ ian_TTV

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