One would not expect Internet giants like Google or NetFlix to stand by idly while a U.S. court strikes a blow to Net Neutrality.
Both companies have begun to push back, following a decision January 13 by a U.S. federal appeals court in Washington D.C., which (largely) struck down U.S. government rules which mandated a free and open Internet.
Net Neutrality is the simple term for an Internet that is free, open and unrestricted by governments or internet services providers (ISPs), the companies and entities which deliver the Internet to your door. Nearly all Internet users in the U.S. get their service from major corporations like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time-Warner, Sprint and others. Those corporations, not corporations like Google or NetFlix, control the speed and accessibility of the Internet. The January 13th court decision gave ISPs free reign to charge extra for some Internet services – like video, for example – or to block content altogether.
To start its push back, Google launched a website, Video Quality Report, which attempts to educate users about how, exactly, a YouTube video makes its way to your laptop or mobile device.
“When your ISP receives your video from YouTube, they begin the important job of carrying it across their network to your home,” Google explains at the site. “They must ensure there’s enough capacity where they receive the data from YouTube. Otherwise, your video streaming quality will suffer.”
In other words, if you want YouTube to stream flawlessly to your machines you want to be assured nothing (like an ISP) is blocking or restricting that flow of (video) data.
“We’ve invested billions of dollars in the bandwidth and infrastructure necessary to bring our services as close to your Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) front door as possible, for free,” Google explains in another portion of the site.
Google is also building its own Internet broadband infrastructure in several U.S. cities (Kansas City, Austin) and is expected to continue and expand that project.
For its part, NetFlix released January 22 a letter to share holders in which it not too subtly warned it would rally its 33 million U.S. customers to demand a continued open and free Internet should any ISPs decide to place restrictions or additional charges for streaming videos.
The company also tried to take the high road.
“The most likely case, however, is that ISPs will avoid this consumer-unfriendly path of discrimination,” said the NetFlix letter. “ISPs are generally aware of the broad public support for net neutrality and don’t want to galvanize government action.”
In an interview posted January 23 with VentureBeat, NetFlix CEO Reed Hastings reinforced the high-road approach by pointing out ISPs would only be hurting themselves should they become bullies or bridge trolls on the superinformation highway.
“Part of delivering and expanding [ISPs’ business] for consumers is having a really good Netflix experience, a good YouTube experience. Things like that. That’s why people get higher-speed broadband,” Hastings told VentureBeat. “So I think actually our economic interests are pretty co-aligned.”
Immediately after the court ruling, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler vowed to keep the Internet free and open, promising the U.S. government’s communications regulatory agency will use its authority to readdress the issues rendered dead by the court.