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Netflix Neutrality

Michael Harris
BroadBananas
Michael Harris
7/26/2006

Netflix, the most popular high-latency video-on-demand service (that's geek-speak for postal- delivered DVDs), continues to ignite the ire of some customers with its "fairness algorithm." Essentially, Netflix "throttles" DVD delivery processing to curb the appetite of voracious movie watchers. Thus, the more you use, the slower the service, according to the MSNBC Web site.[http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11262292/] It's a rational business policy, one that benefits the majority of Netflix customers with moderate movie consumption. However, users who take the company's offer of "unlimited" DVD monthly rentals seriously have conniptions. It reminds me of the old "Hill Street Blues" episode where a raging rotund fellow pulled up a rolling stool to an all-you-can eat salad bar, coasting around and pigging out. His defense: "But it says all you can eat!" With broadband providers now under the net neutrality microscope for prioritizing and throttling traffic on their private networks -- usually in the name of improving the customer experience -- perhaps regulators should consider a Netflix Neutrality provision too. Is it not inconceivable that the next move by the dominant DVD service may be to start throttling movies based on content? For example, in the name of good taste, Netflix could implement a policy to throttle "Kangaroo Jack" so "Lord of the Rings" is delivered sooner. Or, it could even implement an algorithm that prevents a customer from ever seeing a DVD featuring Vanilla Ice? Unfettered access to the largest public library of video content is at risk. Something must be done, and quickly! Or, federal regulators could decide to leave well enough alone with Netflix and broadband access until evidence of an actual, not hypothetical, problem surfaces. - Michael Harris, Chief Analyst, Cable Digital News

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