Why — and when — net neutrality is important

Woody Leonhard

Netflix and Comcast now have an agreement allowing Netflix to link directly to Comcast’s servers. Similar agreements are in the works, involving Verizon and many other ISPs.

Proponents of net neutrality believe all should have equal access to the Net, but the debate isn’t nearly as cut-and-dried as you think.

Netflix streamlines its video-delivery process

Among Web-based services, Netflix isn’t just huge — it’s ginormous. During peak hours — weekday evenings — Netflix accounts for about one-third of all Web activity, according to Web-monitoring company Sandvine, as reported in an All Things Digital article. Toss in Google-owned YouTube, and the two together suck up about 50 percent of prime-time downstream bandwidth. That’s consumption on a mind-boggling scale.

By comparison, Amazon takes up 1.6 percent of prime-time Internet bandwidth, Facebook and Hulu use about 1.3 percent each, and even BitTorrent downloads account for only 4 percent.

Add to that, Comcast and other ISPs provide their own video content. Comcast’s xfinity TV (site), for example, offers movies, TV shows, and many other products that compete directly with Netflix. If your Internet connection comes over a Comcast cable (as mine does), the company that’s actually delivering those Netflix movies to your home makes a lot more money if it sells you an xfinity TV subscription — a situation that has conflict of interest written all over it.

When, according to an Ars Technica story, Netflix’s streaming speed started dropping in late 2013 on Comcast and Verizon, some accused Comcast of throttling Netflix — specifically so Comcast could sell more xfinity TV. From what we now know, that most likely wasn’t the case. But the explanation is, uh, a bit complex.

Even before Comcast and Netflix ironed out their deal last month, Netflix would put its own streaming servers inside ISPs’ server farms. Netflix servers would sit — logically and often physically — inside a Content Delivery Network (CDN) provider’s area, which in turn sat in the ISP’s server area.



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Woody Leonhard

About Woody Leonhard

Woody Leonhard is a Windows Secrets senior editor and a senior contributing editor at InfoWorld. His latest book, the comprehensive 1,080-page Windows 8 All-In-One For Dummies, delves into all the Win8 nooks and crannies. His many writings tell it like it is — whether Microsoft likes it or not.