While Netflix may now be big enough not to care, the deal on net neutrality that we all assumed had stopped the issue being used as a political football is looking under severe threat as the incoming Trump presidency chooses a free market champion as the new head of the FCC.
In the words of Slim Shady, “The FCC won’t let me be…"
Well Slim may have less to worry about now that the Trump administration appears hellbent, among other items, on ripping up net neutrality.
This is the policy enforced by the US communications regulator Federal Communications Commission which prevents broadband providers from charging different rates to various content providers.
It’s been a thorny issue for a number of years with big broadband providers like Verizon and Comcast lined up in opposition and against exponents of it which include Netflix, Twitter and Google. Net neutrality critics argue that the problem it’s trying to solve, namely giant ISPs acting as gatekeepers to what we see and do online, doesn’t exist.
From a Republican point of view the regulation is another arm of the state interfering in the market.
President Trump's appointment of Ajit Pai as chairman of the FCC only points in one direction.
He has previously stated that the commission’s Open Internet Order (which established net neutrality) “would be reversed or overturned in one way or another.”
Netflix, though the chief bandwidth hogger with nearly 50 million US subscribers, thumbed its nose at a potential change in the rules which could see it charged more for usage.
Perhaps with an eye to assuaging shareholders it said in a statement last week: “Weakening of U.S. net neutrality laws, should that occur, is unlikely to materially affect our domestic margins or service quality because we are now popular enough with consumers to keep our relationships with ISPs stable.”
There’s perhaps a veiled threat to Comcast et al there: alter the terms of service and two can play at that game. Can you afford more people to cut the cord when everyone knows that content – which we have lots of – is what people want.
But, as consumers, why should we care about the plight of one billion dollar company over another billion dollar one?
While Netflix has the chops, cash and scale (most of its growth is being driven in markets outside the US where its growth is widely believed saturated) to fight its corner, smaller content providers may not feel so plucky with power handed to gatekeeping ISPs.
There’s an argument to suggest that ISPs may take advantage of a rollback in regulation to promote their own video services.
And if you care about access to the internet as a utility that needs defending against corporate greed then we understand your concern. With nation's seemingly turning inwards away from global cooperation, we wouldn't want the U.S anti regulatory stance to infect other countries and stifle digital innovation or consumer rights.
On his appointment, Pai immediately tweeted: “There is so much we can do together to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans and to promote innovation and investment.”
You don’t have to read between the lines to understand what he means. Just go to his offcial bio on the FCC site where he writes that “consumers benefit most from competition, not preemptive regulation. Free markets have delivered more value to American consumers than highly regulated ones”. He goes on: No regulatory system should indulge arbitrage; regulators should be skeptical of pleas to regulate rivals, dispense favours, or otherwise afford special treatment.
All together now.. "they try to shut me down on MTV, but it feels so empty without me.”