The Avengers Are Assembling — Google and Netflix Join Forces to Fight the Government
Heroes? Tech giants Google and Netflix are joining forces to fight the FCC after the agency's decision to endorse a pay-to-play regulatory scheme, which allows content producers to pay ISPs for faster customer access to their services, effectively neutered what remained of existing net neutrality rules. (The Los Angeles Times called it a "murder.")
Like an Avengers sequel, the same coalition that teamed-up to kill the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in early 2012 might be reassembling to kill the FCC's new plan.
The Wall Street Journal (paywall) reports that "officials inside the companies who follow government policy say they are considering mobilizing a grassroots campaign to rally public opinion around the idea that the Internet's pipes should be equally open for all." While it isn't clear whether big tech and content companies are willing to anger ISPs by openly instigating a digital rebellion, few doubt that they have the capability to bring the battle over net neutrality to the public's attention.
"We may not have the army of lobbyists some other industries might, but I think the users are on our side and they are going to be vocal," Internet Association CEO Michael Beckerman told the Wall Street Journal.
"What so many of us fear, if we lose net neutrality, is that the best ideas might not win because they're the best," says Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. "The incumbents may stay on top because they've cut deals with this oligopoly."
Netflix has already taken its concerns directly to the FCC, with chief executive Reed Hastings posting "Tolls coming for the Web thanks to FCC. What is the FCC thinking?" to his Facebook wall. Though the streaming video giant has apparently agreed to paid deals with both Comcast and Verizon to ensure customers can access its services, it's not very happy about it. Verizon customers suffered from extremely poor connection quality to Netflix before the latter agreed to pony up the cash:
Software engineer Matt Vukas claims Comcast was deliberately throttling Netflix, noting that after a federal court dismissed the FCC's net neutrality protections earlier in the year, his Netflix connection looked like this:
With plenty of this:
But when he accessed the service using an SSL-encryped VPN, meaning Comcast couldn't see that he was using Netflix, service quality returned to normal levels and he was able to stream in HD with few problems. Vukas described the situation thusly:
"If you were an automaker who happened to own a highway, it might make sense to let your brand of car drive in the fast lane for free, while competitors' cars were forced to sit in the toll booth line for hours."
But if you pay the tolls, guess what happens:
It's a similar story with Verizon. Here's what happened to Verizon FiOS speeds around the same timeframe:
While Netflix has apparently waved a white flag in private, it's doing so under the implied coercion of slow speeds that could kill its streaming service. And while we don't know how much Netflix is being forced to pay to just Verizon and Comcast, we do know the company views fighting the FCC's decision to allow pay-to-play schemes as crucial to its continued survival. As PolicyMic's Matt Essert recently wrote, "Without firm net neutrality rules in place, there's nothing anyone can do to prevent this type of awful price gauging and general Internet-ruining."
But while Internet protests have seen big successes like the victories over SOPA and PIPA, they've also fallen flat on their faces in other battles, like the one carried out against the NSA in February. While Netflix is already in opposition, getting major players like Google on board might be difficult. The FCC is preparing to brief major tech companies on the details of their plan by the end of Friday, so soon we'll know whether there will be a coalition to push back against the death of net neutrality or not.