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How to beat the “fast lane” and get back net neutrality

by on22 May 2014 1940 times

Unless you have been living under a rock you have probably heard all about ISPs asking the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) for the right to charge premium fees for prime access across their networks. The argument started when Comcast was punished by the FCC for throttling certain types of traffic. This behavior was originally defended under the blanket of preventing piracy, but it was soon discovered that Comcast had other plans.

As is the case with most cable companies Comcast is both an ISP (internet service provider) and a network service provider. They have their own TV and streaming media interests to maintain. Comcast’s plan was to slow traffic for anyone, but their own service unless the outside parties paid a premium fee. Once again Comcast had a defense: they claimed that this was to help keep the network from being clogged up as user demands for bandwidth increased and also to help fund improvements without needing to increase subscription rates. Once other ISPs saw the money in this many became very interested and joined with Comcast to help push this through.

Now it seems the FCC is agreeing with them and is allowing many cable companies to setup fast lane access for which other service providers will need to pay for. One of the first to jump on this has been Netflix who is reported to already be paying Comcast for better service. While the FCC sits back claiming this is a good thing others are not convinced.

The critics of this move feel (rightly) that this will hurt consumers in both the short and long term. There is no guarantee that having fast lanes will benefit anyone but the ISP. We all have watched as service rates continue to go up while service speeds stay relatively the same (there are a few exceptions). You can bet that just because a company is getting money from Netflix or another streaming media company they are not going to pass on a chance to raise individual and business rates.  Meanwhile Netflix and others will raise their rates to cover the extra costs. This is not a big deal for a monster like Netflix, but it can and will kill off smaller companies that cannot afford the better (faster) access speeds.

This latter item is the most concerning as competition is what helps innovation. If there is little to no chance for a small company to enter with a better product because of these new fast lane fees then innovation will suffer.

So how does someone fight this? Well if you are like Google you announce that there will be no fast lane fees. You let people know that everyone’s traffic will be treated equally on your service. It is true that Google Fiber is a very small presence right now, but this move will also get consumers asking for their communities to be next on the list for their high-speed fiber service. It is a win for Google and in reality a win for innovation and a more open and free internet. Google allows content providers to not only peer up, but also to colocate in their facilities for free.

After all video streaming is not really an issue in the way that major ISPs are claiming. They simply want a way to recoup revenue from their customers using someone else’s service. As Jeffrey Burgan, Google Fiber's director of network engineering stated, “it’s really a win-win-win situation. It’s good for content providers because they can deliver really high-quality streaming video to their customers. For example, because Netflix colocated their servers along our network, their customers can access full 1080p HD and, for those who own a 4K TV, Netflix in Ultra HD 4K. It’s good for us because it saves us money (it’s easier to transport video traffic from a local server than it is to transport it thousands of miles). But most importantly, we do this because it gives Fiber users the fastest, most direct route to their content. That way, you can access your favorite shows faster. All-in-all, these arrangements help you experience the best access to content on the Internet — which is the whole point of getting Fiber to begin with!

This type of competition can be huge when other companies start to see their customers leave or demand the same type of service… after all, nothing speaks louder than your dollar.

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Last modified on 22 May 2014
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