Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Netflix and consumers alike have an alternative to Comcast and Verizon

A few months ago, we were aghast to see that Netflix has signed a deal with Comcast to gain better access to Comcast subscribers. This is an insult to consumers all over. Comcast gets to charge twice for the same level of service: once for the consumer, once for the information provider. The consumer will pay more in the long run.

But wait, there's more. Word is out that Netflix has signed another deal with Verizon. Now Verizon executives can laugh all the way to bank with their government sanctioned monopoly and charge consumers twice, once for access to the internet and again for access to Netflix. Ahhhh. Must be great to be a telecom exec with a private monopoly.

This is wrong on so many levels, it is hard to imagine that this is even sustainable. It would seem that in the eyes of the incumbent telcos and cable companies, the end game is the end of Netflix.

In the net neutrality debate, few are willing to raise the point that Verizon and Comcast get their traffic from true common carriers like Level 3 Communications. Few are willing to admit that Comcast and Verizon are connected to the public network and that they are common carriers. The incumbent carriers also get bargain basement prices for easements across private and public property to run their networks.

That we are so dependent on a few carriers in the first place makes it all the more clear that they should be designated as common carriers and be subject to open access rules. But if they refuse or resist such regulation, with their legions of lawyers and lobbyists, then we need an alternative. Something we can build ourselves.

We call it "community broadband". It's happening here and there across our country, with greater and greater frequency as the small towns are continually being passed up for faster service. They find a way to get it financed and build fiber networks that will bring faster speeds. Google Fiber has also brought higher speeds into the mainstream debate. No longer can cable and telco restrain our communities to 3 megabits per second and still call it broadband.

The incumbent carriers have been working hard to keep community broadband at bay on two fronts: litigation to bleed community organizations to the point where they have no money left to build their networks and legislation to restrain local municipalities from building networks that would compete with the incumbents using public funds.

Netflix needs community broadband because community broadband has every reason to act as the common carrier in the community. Like the local trolley or subway, it is how we get around town, the nation and the world. Community broadband treats internet access like the utility that it has become - essential to life in the 21st century.

The chairman of the FCC has said that he wants to use his power to preempt state laws that restrain community broadband. He has pointed out that if a city can grant a franchise to a cable company, the same city can build their own network when the cable company fails to meet the needs of the people it serves.

This is where Netflix can take the fight. We ought to encourage Netflix to take notice of community broadband and to use their power to nurture local networks built by the people, for the people.
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