Yesterday, the F.C.C. voted to move forward on their plan to guarantee a neutral, open Internet. Essentially, the vote was on whether or not a proposed strategy should move forward, but no actual ruling was made on net neutrality. The good news is that a part of that proposal included a measure to open the plan to public comment.
So the four-month public questioning period is set to begin immediately, but what questions can we ask for the next four months? Are there even that many questions worth asking? The New York Times quoted F.C.C. chairman Tom Wheeler as saying, “We are asking for specific comment on different approaches to accomplish the same goal—an open Internet.”
There’s more than one enemy to an open Internet. In light of the chairman’s comments, and the proposed plan, there are two questions that we should absolutely be asking. One is quite commonly addressed, but the other seems yet to be touched. Let’s talk about both.
“How are Fast Lanes ‘neutral?’”
While it appears that Mr. Wheeler really does want an open Internet, at least based on everything he’s publicly said, there’s a provision in the plan that seems to go against that idea: fast lanes.
While net neutrality is primarily focused on the idea of an ISP not intentionally slowing down one service over another, a fast lane is a way to pay to have your services delivered, as the name implies, faster than another. Hard to see a distinction isn’t it? We’re not slowing anyone down… but we are speeding certain ones up.
Think of a group of video streaming services like Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu, as runners in a race. In this particular race, Asics provides everybody with their shoes. If the “fast lane” principal is applied, it’s as though Asics is promising that it won’t put lead in anyone’s shoes to slow them down—but it will give one of the runners roller skates with rockets attached to it, as long as they pay a premium. I don’t think the race committee would call that a fair or neutral race.
If as an SEO company we promise to use purely white hat SEO practices with our clients (which we do)—but then went against our word and used black hat SEO tactics to attack the competitors of our client, that would be about as sneaky as what the ISPs are doing right now with their Fast Lanes.
The good news is people haven’t been silent on this issue. For the most part, this very idea is what has had the Internet community up in arms for months. Activist groups have cried out for true net neutrality, and watch dog groups continue to fire shots at the F.C.C. for trying to pull the wool over our eyes.
Despite this backlash, however, there is still a burning question that no one is acknowledging that’s right in front of our faces—literally. That is the issue of monopolizing the streaming industry.
“What about monopolies on streaming services?”
We all have already submitted to it: When someone asks you what streaming service you subscribe to, without indicting yourself as a Jack Sparrow of the World Wide Web, your answer will undoubtedly be either Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, or maybe HBO GO. But for HBO, you probably just ask your friend for their password so you can keep up with Game of Thrones.
So concerning just the first three—Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon—there’s already a very limited market of web-based streaming services, and they have been some of the loudest voices in the outcry against fast lanes and for net neutrality.
As a matter of fact, video streaming has been the only thing that gets talked about in our demand for net neutrality. At the end of the day, we just want our videos to load at lighting speeds into glorious 1080p without them sending our subscription prices through the roof.
But what happens once the open Internet debate has ended, and we’re just left at the whim of our so-far benevolent streaming services?
Currently, Netflix costs $8.99 per month; Hulu Plus costs $7.99 (despite, cough cough, the fact that it still has advertisements); and an Amazon Prime membership, for which streaming services are merely one part of the benefits, costs $99 per year—which works out to about $8.25 per month. But each of those services is home to exclusive content. You won’t see House of Cards or the new season of Arrested Development on Hulu or Amazon, and you aren’t seeing the new episodes of SNL anywhere but Hulu. Amazon is even dipping its toes into content production. And if it has any of the success Netflix has, we’re sure to be hopelessly hooked.
So what’s stopping them, once we’ve all “cut our cable” and moved to Internet-only TV, from raising prices? Have they made such headway in being the exclusive home to our favorite shows that we have no hope of more competitors emerging? Are streaming services going to be the big bad telecom companies of the 2010s?
Don’t Be So Quick To Trust
Streaming services have been very customer-friendly up until this point. For the content that they stream, $8.99 is still a fantastic deal—especially considering the fact that services like HBO GO don’t mind when you share your username and password with friends. But does that mean we can expect this level of behavior forever?
As these sites continue to expand further into the film industry, there will be more pressure from investors and creators to make as much money as possible. That’s going to lead to higher costs, and that means that eventually video streaming will be just as absurdly priced as the monthly cable bill.
The point is that there are good questions to be asked, that should be asked over the next four months. The tragedy will be if we do not ask all of the ones that we should—and further still, if we do not demand answers from the committee that opened the discussion to us in the first place.