Comcast and Netflix: The Beginning of the End for Net Neutrality?

Comcast has set net neutrality advocates buzzing after striking a deal with Netflix to allow that company faster video streaming.

While something like this would have been unheard of just last year, a federal court’s ruling in January struck down the Federal Communication Commission’s long-standing rules on net neutrality. Net neutrality, in brief, prevented Internet providers from giving better service to higher-paying customers which would put smaller customers at a disadvantage. The theory was that someone blogging from a laptop should be able to get information out on the Internet just as easily and efficiently as a major company, ensuring an unrestricted flow of ideas.

“Now that people have access to high-speed Internet services, they’re doing more than simply surfing websites and sending email,” said Tim Karr, senior director of Strategy Free Press. “They’re watching videos, listening  to music, sharing photographs, basically everything we used to do via various media is all happening now via the Internet.”

But, the very technology that creates such opportunities may also create a hunger for profit.

“Since this transformation, since people started watching television via their high speed Internet, you’re seeing the most powerful players in media, which in this day and age are large cable companies, trying to take back control over the Internet,” Karr said.

Losing out are start-up companies that want to be the next Netflix or the next YouTube and now will have to pay these new carriage fees.
Tim Karr

It’s worth noting, however, that the Comcast/Netflix deal is not the first of its kind. As Mashable recently showed, Comcast already has an established business selling this kind of access. Such transactions have been kept on the down low — so the Netflix deal is just a more publicized example of what has already been happening.

Of course, just because something has been happening doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good for all parties involved. If taken far enough, this kind of behavior could put a crimp in entrepreneurship.

“Losing out are start-up companies that want to be the next Netflix or the next YouTube and now will have to pay these new carriage fees in order to get access to cable companies’ customers,” Karr said. “Most start-ups in the business won’t be able to afford that cost.”

By contrast, Wired Enterprise writer Robert McMillan argued that Comcast will be conscious of public opinion and the threat of government regulation, and so will take steps to self-regulate.

Perhaps only time will tell if this is the start of the apocalypse net neutrality advocates have long feared, or just a transition into a thriving new business model. One thing is certain — the world is watching.

Photo Credit: Eric Blattberg / VentureBeat