The Dangerous Reaction to Netflix-Comcast
If you pay any attention to the mainstream press, then you know that the Comcast-Netflix deal announced over the weekend and the deals expected now between Netflix and other broadband ISPs will end net neutrality as we know it, probably drive up the cost of the Netflix service, and reshape the entire Internet business.
I'd agree with our Mari Silbey's report that the Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX)-Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) deal is a game-changer. But I am not convinced that it's the end of the Internet as we know it, which is what you might think if you view USA Today's video version, which comes complete with live artwork. (See Comcast-Netflix Peering Deal: A Game-Changer?.)
As some other tech writers, notably Dan Rayburn of streamingmedia.com and Marguerite Reardon of CNET have correctly noted, this is not a net neutrality issue at all. Nor does it give Netflix an unfair advantage when it comes to traversing broadband access pipes.
But you would only know that, as a news consumer, if you dug a little deeper than most people do.
What Netflix and Comcast have negotiated has to do with where and how the Netflix video content enters the Comcast network, not how it is treated over the last-mile access networks, where cable and telecom companies have a virtual duopoly in the US. It is an agreement that makes business sense for both companies as both have reason for Netflix video traffic to be handled in a way that's appropriate to its volume and specific quality requirements.
The problem is that a nodding acquaintance with network technology can lead the best of us non-IP engineers to think we know exactly how the Internet works. As I, myself, have been reminded of late by some sharp-minded readers, there are too many glib, over-simplified references that fail to recognize the complex interconnection of networks (and business arrangements) that brings the Internet to our doors, or more accurately, our computing devices.
Normally, that lack of total understanding by the general press doesn't matter. But in this case, it's led to some sweeping and sometimes dangerous generalizations about what's really happening between Netflix and Comcast.
Unless and until someone with real power -- say, a member of Congress or a regulator -- decides to use this news coverage as the basis for legislation, the danger is minimal, although such reporting does help prolong the simplified thinking that fuels hatred of large broadband ISPs. (Some would say they pour gas on that fire with poor customer service, but that's a digression I won't risk).
But I can also envision how a journalistically simple-minded view of the Internet could influence coverage of major network outages and security issues -- as well as the kind of protections that might be required to prevent or recover from these. And that could lead to serious problems.
I think it's time for all of us to admit we don't know what we don't know sometimes, and stop trying to wear a mantle of all Internet understanding when it doesn't fit.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading