A few weeks ago, the courts struck down Net Neutrality, which forbade internet providers from throttling information coming from competing services in the interest of a free and open internet. People were, quite rightly, upset. As part of the overall response to the news, one beacon of hope shone out – Netflix issued a statement saying that they were committed to keeping their not-unconsiderable-clout-bearing eye on things. The impression their craftily-worded statement gave was that this company, who had gained so much from Net Neutrality over the years, was on the side of the American public and an internet where information was allowed to roam free. Here’s the relevant quote from that statement, issued in late January 2014:
“Unfortunately, Verizon successfully challenged the U.S. net neutrality rules. In principle, a domestic ISP now can legally impede the video streams that members request from Netflix, degrading the experience we jointly provide. The motivation could be to get Netflix to pay fees to stop this degradation. Were this draconian scenario to unfold with some ISP, we would vigorously protest and encourage our members to demand the open Internet they are paying their ISP to deliver.
Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/netflix-net-neutrality-statement-2014-1#ixzz2uBpzqdyY“
This week, however, Netflix announced that they’re going to be paying Comcast to keep their data from being throttled – an about-face of pretty impressive proportions. In other words, they flipped the public the bird and dug into their coffers to keep their information flowing, rather than stick to the idea that a company shouldn’t be able to cut off their competitor’s information just because the competitor didn’t lay the fiberoptic cable that their data travels along.
I know. I shouldn’t expect more from major media companies when it comes to turning a profit over upholding ideals. I fell for Netflix’s PR stunt, and that was stupid. And now I’m angry.
Netflix has effectively thrown a wad of cash at the bigger issue here – and, one can only assume, will be abandoning the larger issue of ethics around an internet provider throttling the data their users get from other sources.
I think of Netflix’s move as something akin to paying of the troll who lives under a bridge. “Don’t eat me!” you shout, hefting a sack of gold coins at the monster so it will leave you alone – and setting up an expectation that it will be able to extort cash from future travelers (or, in this case, companies). The move is on par with negotiating with terrorists – Comcast apparently had Netflix over a barrel, and rather than raise the considerable clout of their millions of subscribers (as their original statement seemed to indicate would be their preference), Netflix reached into their deep pockets, pulled out some Benjamins, and made it rain in the land of Comcast.
I can already hear people asking, so what? Well, here’s so what: Netflix may have deep pockets, and Hulu may be owned by NBC Universal, but what about the burdgeoning media companies who don’t have mile-deep bank accounts lined with cold hard cash? How are they going to compete in a marketplace where it’s now established that charging for the privilege of disseminating information is a reasonable practice?
And what about when we stop talking about straight-up entertainment? What about when it isn’t House of Cards that you have to pay to play, but citizen journalism from the middle east, or news of oil spills and water contamination in your own back yard? The information available online has been a boon to the average citizen, whose negotiation of a capitalist landscape is void of the transparent honesty required of vendors in order for them to be able to compete fairly. Without wanting to rush off a cliff in a tinfoil hat, when traditional media flat-out refuses to cover stories that indict the power structure, and alternative media is the only way for marginalized stories to spread, how would it affect our ability to know what’s going on in the world if the only efficiently-delivered journalism is what comes down the fiberoptic cables from FOX, MSNBC, CNN and other clearly deficient players?
By paying Comcast to permit them unfettered access to free-flowing information conduits, Netflix has set a terrible precedent. The action almost demands that Comcast now move to demanding similar payments from other media-banks, and in the process will further lessen the availability of quality information to the American public.
While the courts are to blame for striking down Net Neutrality and the FCC is to blame for the uncertain wording that let that happen, make no mistake – Netflix has just opened the door to pay-for-play on a scale that boggles the mind. So thanks for that, Netflix – good to know where you really stand on the issue of free and open access to information.
Not to mention protection money.
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