open_internet

In the past, Netflix and YouTube resisted Internet service providers’ demands for additional fees to carry videos from their servers to consumers with not-so-subtle messages about who’s really to blame when that episode of “Weeds” or that music video needs some time to buffer.

Those efforts have escalated today with a letter to the Federal Communications Commission in which the companies — through the Internet Association group which also includes Facebook, Amazon, and others — asked the agency to prevent ISPs from collecting those fees.

The fees, which allow companies better access to an ISP’s network in exchange for allowing those ISPs to get paid twice for the same data transfer — once from consumers and once from companies like Netflix and YouTube — have been attracting headlines since earlier this year. As Pando’s David Holmes wrote when Netflix decided to pay Comcast those fees in February:

The Internet has historically been a place where anyone could post content or offer services to the same global audience, regardless of whether you’re a kid from Arkansas or a multi-national corporation. But it’s becoming more like cable TV where content providers have to bring loads to cash to the table before companies like Time Warner and Cablevision will bring that content to millions of eyeballs.

The result is a system that rewards large companies while penalizing smaller entrants that can’t afford to pay those fees, allowing an effective monopoly (the ISPs with control over entire swaths of the country) to facilitate the creation of another monopoly (based on whoever can pay their fees) without so much as a glance back at the Internet’s founding principles.

Here’s what I wrote when the entire media industry buzzed with excitement for a new streaming video service from Apple that was delayed because the company wants Comcast to offer it priority access to consumers’ homes, furthering the idea that not all bytes are transferred equally:

Contrary to the narrative crafted by net neutrality activists, Comcast isn’t dabbling in back room deals that subtly undermine the idea of a free Internet where all data is treated equally. It’s created a system through which it is able to convince even net neutrality supporters like Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to pay for improved performance, to get Apple to pay for the ability to reach consumers at a decent speed, to become even larger in the ISP market, and to make donations to the lawmakers tasked with keeping it in check.

Now it seems that these companies aren’t content with forming alliances with the telecom industry to better reach their customers, nor with sending messages or informing users about the general lack of quality of their Internet connections. (Or, if you live in the same rural area that I do, the complete lack of options for home Internet service.) The only question is whether or not the FCC, which has danced around the issue of interconnection fees in the past, will give the legality — or even the ethics — of those fees a second thought at their request.

[Image by balleyne]