In the on-going feud between OTT content providers and Internet service providers over who is responsible for low streaming speed, the ISPs — oft-reviled cable and telephone companies — make convenient villains. But after receiving a public shaming from Netflix, Verizon has decided to point the finger right back at the dominating streaming service. It accuses Netflix for “purposely select congested routes”, which Netflix has denied, so as to manipulate the ISPs to cover the cost of upgrading their infrastructure, while essentially blaming the humongous Internet traffic caused by Netflix on its vast popularity.
But taking a step back, it’s easy to see the bottom-line here: congestion at the interconnection point is in fact controlled by ISPs like Verizon. And if the customers are paying the their ISPs monthly to stream Netflix at a decent speed, then no other excuses would be valid for ISPs to jettison that responsibility. Maybe the ISPs are conveniently villainous for good reasons after all.
While Netflix announced it’s Q4 2013 earnings, which were very positive, the company made headlines for its take on the Net Neutrality ruling. In a letter to shareholders Netflix bemoaned the decision, saying that, “In principle, a domestic ISP now can legally impede the video streams that memebrs request from Netflix, degrading the experience we jointly provide.” Netflix is imagining the scenario thought up by many, wherein the company would have to pay fees to ISP’s to prevent the degradation of service, passing that cost back onto consumers with higher member fees. But it doesn’t want to do that: the company said that were this to happen it would protest and encourage its members to do the same. Though Netflix doesn’t see this happening – the company puts faith in ISP’s to keep providing the open internet they are charged with delivering – it could prove to be a pressure point in the coming months and years: what will it take for users to protest against these sorts of changes? Would the intentional throttling of Netflix, the number one source of U.S. Internet use during peak hours, be enough to push people over that edge?
A US appeals court today ruled that the FCC’s net neutrality rules don’t apply to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), which might set a precedent for prioritization of Internet traffic. The ruling might seem pedantic and not that important for advertisers, but it means that ISPs can, without fear of punishment, strike deals with websites to prioritize web traffic. The net neutrality laws are based on the same principle as the “common carrier” terms, which mean that certain types of telephone calls aren’t prioritized over others, so that the phone lines are always open to everybody, all the time. If the same laws don’t apply to the Internet, ISPs can do deals with large companies to ensure that their services have more bandwidth, taking bandwidth away from smaller websites or projects. So if you have a digital UX/UI experience, campaign, or project that isn’t in on one of these deals, it could be de-prioritized and fall on its head because of a lack of bandwidth. Or, in the words of the ruling, “it might degrade the quality of the connection to a search website like Bing if a competitor like Google paid for prioritized access.” The FCC is currently in the process of appealing the ruling, so this might not stand for long, but until it is actually overturned it’s an important development to keep a close eye on.
All Netflix members now, regardless of their ISP, will have access to the highest quality HD streams that are available to Netflix. It means that those with smart TV’s or other methods of streaming – e.g. through Xbox, Roku, etc. – are going to be able to enjoy the full potential of their technology in conjunction with Netflix. It came on the heels of a study, done by Netflix, that revealed that ISP’s across the board were able to support the service. It works through something called “adaptive streaming,” to dynamically adjust video quality based on available bandwidth. Obviously, those with a direct connection to Netflix will have better service, but ideally it should work well for all parties.