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SXSW: Net Neutrality and Netflix

Comcast MergerNet neutrality is something every media maker has to care about, explained Free Press’ Craig Aaron at SXSW 2014. 

Net neutrality means that Internet providers treat equally all the information that they transmit, rather than prioritizing the information they own or favor. The term is a loose one; in a literal sense this doesn’t really happen now, and couldn’t without freezing the Internet. But in general, you don’t want a provider to do a deal with its favorite, say, newspaper or movie service, at the expense of others. That’s why the FCC made it a condition of Comcast’s 2011 purchase of NBCUniversal. 

Oops, that’s actually what did happen when Comcast and Netflix struck a deal to favor Netflix customers’ streams. Well, the way they did the deal walked around the issue a little, but the results was Netflix paying Comcast to get more reliable, faster service.

Good luck to any present or future competitor of Netflix. Good luck to the independent filmmaker wanting or even having to use another service to showcase a debut film, because Netflix only takes work from aggregators, not individual producers.

Comcast (the largest cable company) now has made a bid for Time Warner (the second largest). With that addition, Comcast could control access to the Internet in half the U.S., and a third of the cable TV market. It’s promising to observe the same net neutrality it’s observing now (ahem, see above), only until 2018, in Time Warner’s markets.

Can anything be done to stop a juggernaut like Comcast? Aaron was hopeful, more so than fellow panelist Andrew Rasiej. Aaron thinks, like his inspiration  Saul Alinsky, that people can beat money if there are enough of them, so the whole game is about building constituency. Free Press has a big campaign going, and helps you ask the FCC to block the merger.