Have Verizon, Comcast, or AT&T Internet? Then you might have noticed something about your Netflix account lately: the quality sucks.
In a major move by huge corporations and a blow to consumers, Netflix has agreed to pay Comcast for direct access to its broadband network. The deal was likely made after the Internet provider (as well as others) either deliberately throttled network speeds for its high-bandwidth content or simply neglected to upgrade aging telecommunications infrastructure until a backlog was inevitable. The deal likely marks the end of an era in which major telecommunications companies were largely expected to treat the data going over their cables exactly the same, regardless of its source. In other words, net neutrality is dead.
USA Today writes that the deal marks the "end of the concept of an open or free Internet and presages a more-competitive landscape for digital entertainment and information," where corporate power reigns supreme and consumers are increasingly forced to pay out for premium services that used to be standard.
For example, that Time Warner Cable-Comcast merger? Comcast's spokespeople said that since the companies have different service markets, the acquisition wouldn't create a monopoly. But now that providers have decided to move ahead with pushing services to pay for high-speed access for their customers, that means their potential to press their huge market share on everyone else has expanded exponentially.
Comcast, for one, is already "the worst when it comes to customer service and its prices are rising several times faster than the rate of inflation. TWC — number two in market share — is nearly as bad when it comes to service quality."
And soon, it seems very likely that either company will continue to forestall improving their networks in favor of throttling service and offering premium access to the companies willing to pay for it. While this might end up ultimately benefiting Netflix in the long term by making their customers' experience faster and more enjoyable, it's an unequivocal disaster for anyone who hopes to compete against their service without shelling out protection money to de facto cable monopolies.
This will be a disaster for both consumers, who will need to pay out more money to subsidize services like Netflix's need to buy more bandwidth, and it's bad for the Internet, which relies on free and open access to generate competition. And while the initial moves may only affect a handful of companies, what happens when this becomes the accepted way of doing business? What's to stop Facebook from using a billion or two to crush the next competitor to WhatsApp? Or YouTube from agreeing to pay big cable a little more money for bandwidth if they make sure streaming video is too pricey for DailyMotion or FunnyOrDie to handle?
The result is going to be a rentier's Internet where you end up paying a hell of lot more than $8 for your monthly NetFlix subscription, and your increasingly pathetic Internet connection too.