I won’t recount all of the horrible things that could happen because of the impending Time Warner/Comcast merger, except to say that those horrible things are beginning to come to fruition. The merger, which would mean that Comcast will own 30 percent of the nation’s access to the Internet, means that Comcast will also own 30 percent of the control over that access, and unless strong net neutrality laws are put into place, we’re all kind of screwed.
Why? Well, for starters, after the merger was announced, Netflix struck a deal with Comcast to get favorable treatment so that Comcast subscribers wouldn’t have their access to Netflix disrupted. That’s good, right? Not really. As Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings explained, Netflix only paid up because they were basically in a position where they had no choice. Comcast gave them the shake down.
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Now? Apple has fallen into line. Apple is in discussions with Comcast to get its own special little pipeline into our homes so that when it rolls out its new Apple TV later this year, Comcast subscribers won’t blame Apple if they run into a lot of buffering problems when they open their brand new Apple TV sets. Amazon Prime and Hulu are probably only days or weeks behind, and what will it all mean?
It’ll mean that the major streaming services will have to pay extra for favorable treatment, and those who can’t afford to pay extra or are unwilling to do so will not get fruit cup. This is precisely why we want net neutrality in the first place: So that Internet access is open and available to everyone equally.
Indeed, not only will the money that Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and Hulu pay to Comcast eventually filter back down to the consumer in terms of higher prices, but we may get the double whammy by not only having to pay Netflix a higher subscription rate, but Comcast, too, in order to avoid caps. Many of us already pay an outrageous amount for Internet access (I pay $72 a month), and how many of us are actually happy with it? Still, without net neutrality and stronger competition among ISPs, that’s our future.
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In fact, as Slate points out, it may actually benefit ISPs to have crappy Internet because it will force streaming services to pay the ISPs to open up better lanes, so the rich will get richer, and the poor will get poorer, and our Internet will eventually mirror the outside corporate structure even more than it does now. Moreover, without net neutrality laws, there’s nothing stopping ISPs from throttling traffic to your favorite sites, so that one day, you may have a crystal clear path to Netflix, but opening up your local online newspaper or that Mommy Blog you can’t get enough of may remind you of the old days of dial-up service.
This is why anti-monopoly laws exist. It’s too bad they have no teeth, and the FCC is a bunch of weak-willed ninnies.