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AT&T Makes a Monumentally Dumb Argument to Netflix

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | March 25, 2014 |

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | March 25, 2014 |

Yesterday, we wrote about the dangers posed to net neutrality by the impending Time Warner/Comcast merger, specifically that the newly merged company will be able to extort streaming services like Netflix, who will be forced to pay up in order for their streaming content to receive preferential treatment. In other words, if Netflix doesn’t pay up, then the consumer at home will run into slow connections and buffering issues despite the Internet service that we pay for because the ISPs will choke off our streaming access.

In fact, Netflix saw the writing on the wall and paid Comcast for preferential treatment (and Apple soon followed suit) in order to ensure quality streaming speeds. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, however, wasn’t happy about the shakedown because he, appropriately, doesn’t feel that it’s fair that anyone should have to pay for preferential treatment because everyone should be given the same access. That’s the principle behind net neutrality: That our ISPs provide consumers at home with equal access to all services, and all services be given equal access to the consumers.

AT&T did not appreciate Hastings’ position, however. In fact, AT&T Senior Executive Vice President of Legislative Affairs James Cicconi wrote an attack letter stating, in part:

As we all know, there is no free lunch, and there’s also no cost-free delivery of streaming movies. Someone has to pay that cost. Mr. Hastings’ arrogant proposition is that everyone else should pay but Netflix. That may be a nice deal if he can get it. But it’s not how the Internet, or telecommunication for that matter, has ever worked.

What’s being obscured here, however, is that we are already paying for access. If I pay $75 a month for Internet service, I expect to have access to Netflix, which I also play $9 a month to subscribe to. AT&T’s position is that Netflix should have to pay them so that I can have better access to something I should already have access to.

This is how Cory Doctorow over on Boing Boing explains it:

What Cicconi ignores is that Netflix is paying its ISPs to be connected to the Internet. And AT&T’s customers are paying to be connected to the Internet. And AT&T’s customers are asking to have the service they are paying for to be connected to the service Netflix is paying for. AT&T is then demanding that Netflix pay it a bribe in order to carry out the service that its customers are paying for.

If you’re an AT&T customer paying for a 4MB/s DSL line, you have entered into a commercial arrangement whereby AT&T delivers you the bytes you ask for as quickly and efficiently as it can. You’re not entering into an arrangement whereby AT&T can, if it notices that many of its customers really like a service, charge that service for the privilege of giving AT&T customers what they’re already paying for.

Look, I know that ISPs and net neutrality isn’t a particularly sexy subject, but your Internet porn is, right? That’s precisely that kind of thing that’s going to be affected most by weak net neutrality: Services that absorb a lot of your bandwidth but can’t afford to pay a bribe to all the various ISPs. If we don’t start expressing our outrage now, then in the not too distant future you’re going to feel the pinch when your sexy-time viewing experience buffers at the least opportune time.

via Boing Boing

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.