Technically speaking:Time to talk net neutrality

Corey Mcmahon

This week, a guy named Reed Hastings got a bit annoyed with something about his Xbox. Hastings, the founder and CEO of Netflix, decided now is as good as any time to talk about the issue of net neutrality.

The best way to describe the principle of net neutrality is that all bytes are created equal. The bandwidth that one person uses to watch videos on YouTube is no more important than the bandwidth another person uses to video chat with a friend through Skype. Now, this isn’t entirely true; some Internet uses are, strictly speaking, more important. But net neutrality asserts as long as someone is willing to pay for it, the companies providing the capability of Internet connection shouldn’t favor any activity over another.

That would be a very simple idea on its own, alas, there are a few complications. A good deal of the companies that provide your Internet connection (Comcast and Time Warner to name a couple) also provide content they deliver over that connection, which brings us back to what Hastings said on his Facebook account this week.

Hastings alleges Comcast favors its own video service called Xfinity over competitors by having its own data not count toward customers’ predetermined bandwidth limit. The Xfinity service, which Hastings uses on his Xbox, is only available to Comcast’s cable customers, and thus, the company is creating incentives for its own service as opposed to those offered by its competitors.

“The same device, the same IP address, the same wifi, the same Internet connection, but totally different cap treatment,” Hastings wrote.

The defense Comcast and every other Internet service provider uses is somewhat technical: they send Xfinity video over a private IP network and not over the public Internet. Basically, they see Xfinity on the Xbox as an extension of a cable box and different from watching, for example, on a computer.

A company using one of its products in an industry to sway an entirely different industry has typically been regarded as a bad thing. But in addition to being a blatant show of anti-competitive behavior, such action on the part of Internet service providers does not create a positive image of where the Internet could be headed. The Internet will be better for all if new bandwidth be allocated for whichever products and services the market deems worthy, not simply those controlled by the companies that control the Internet pipelines.