Comcast-Netflix Deal Undercuts Net Neutrality

Comcast-Netflix Deal Undercuts Net Neutrality

This just in: Netflix and Internet Service Provider (ISP) Comcast have struck a deal to play Netflix videos more reliably for Comcast customers. The New York Times is calling it a “milestone in the history of the Internet.” What’s really going on?

Netflix as viewed on Comcast connections has been slowly degrading in recent months. This deal nominally “fixes” that problem but may create others. The two firms insist the arrangement is not a violation of net neutrality, because Comcast is not giving Netflix content priority over other content it delivers to end users.

Comcast really has gumption — it’s fiddling with the fundamental openness of the Internet even as it asks regulators in Washington to approve its acquisition of Time Warner Cable. As much as Comcast may protest to the contrary, any arrangement requiring a content provider to pay an ISP to connect to its customers is a form of paid-prioritization and poses a fresh challenge to the openness of the Internet that has allowed innovation and free expression to flourish online. This is what happens when you let net neutrality fall by the way side.

It’s clear that what we need is an expansive view of network neutrality. This is not about watching “Orange is the New Black” online. Internet users need to know that they will have access to the content of their choice, without discrimination. When so much of our democratic discourse occurs online, we must ensure the greatest organizational and informational tool is available equally to all. As Michael Copps, former FCC Commissioner and Common Cause Special Adviser, said,

“This is a troubling precedent. Broadband providers should not be striking sweetheart deals with content companies. Consumer protection and online free expression are at stake. Our regulators in Washington should act swiftly and decisively to guarantee the Open Internet.”

And so, it’s clear what our regulators must do: reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service so that they have legal authority to rein in the gatekeeping power of huge telecommunications and media firms.