September 14, 2014

CRUZ | Netflix Neutrality

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Binge-watching may be one of my favorite activities on the Internet. As a community I think we can agree that the weeks when the new seasons of Orange is the New Black and House of Cards come out, many of us won’t be seeing much of anyone but Piper Chapman and the chilling influence of Frank Underwood. Maybe that’s just me. Though Netflix is as much of a college institution nowadays as a cup of coffee or a Keystone Light, it hasn’t actually been pertinent for very long. I only even remember hearing about Netflix in high school, my mother signed up for the free month promotion and one of my best friends (whose family was very technologically savvy) had a subscription. Even then, interest didn’t last long. Netflix seemed like a thing for the more movie-obsessed or technological elite. Now, it has effectively taken down the movie tycoon of old, Blockbuster, and is poised at the top of the online media streaming pack.

In reality, the company was launched in 1997. Before any of us could really read or write, with exception to any of you super geniuses, and before the freshmen even really began speaking. In fact, in 2000, Netflix was offered to Blockbuster for acquisition, but they passed. Bad move, Blockbuster.

This seems like a lot of useless information, but the moral of the story is this: It takes a long time to launch and create a successful company. Last week, Netflix, Reddit and a number of other sites had Slow Down for Net Neutrality Day and threw up their arms, or, more accurately, warnings about the harmful effects of a recent FCC proposal to create an Internet fast lane. For those who don’t go on these sites every day, the warning said something along the lines of, “if there was no net neutrality, you would still be waiting for this site to load.” While that isn’t actually true — Netflix is a large enough company that they can afford to pay to be in the fast lane and continue to provide the same level of service they do now — if an Internet fast lane was created while Netflix was in its early years, it may not have survived.

In reality, the term Net Neutrality kind of sucks. Not because the name doesn’t correctly describe the issue (it does), but because it is thrown around often, and hardly anyone knows what it really means. Because not enough people know what it means, not enough people are getting angry about it. Net Neutrality, or “Open Internet,” essentially means that all web sites are equal and are given equal preference by service providers, it means that all websites run at the same speed. This is a good system and there is a lot of support for Net Neutrality. And, while it seems like almost everyone is in favor of Net Neutrality, Google, Netflix, Amazon, Reddit, Kickstarter and, you know, viewers like you, Internet companies like Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon couldn’t be more excited to see it come to an end. These companies would prefer there to be a fast lane and a slow lane, or as they call it, a fast lane and a hyperfast lane. I’ll believe it when I see it, Comcast. Websites would have to pay to be one of the sites in the fast lane, and those that cannot pay would be left in the proverbial dust. Some online commenters don’t completely condemn what the service providers are trying to do — some argue that with this fast lane people who need the speed most like 911 services and companies in high demand, like Netflix, would be able to provide better service to customers and us as users would have faster access to our main squeezes. And as Netflix viewers and Facebook users, isn’t that all we care about? Who cares about the little companies, anyway? As long as we have quick access to the important stuff.

The answer should be, all of you. In spite of sounding like a motivational poster, you, you beautiful Big Red entrepreneurs, are the future. Many of you may want to start a business in your life, some already are with the help of the Popshop and other awesome resources our university offers, and, as we already discussed, starting a business is hard. It takes time and money and most start-ups and great ideas start small, without the capital to buy the speed it might take to compete with a Netflix or afford the things a Netflix can afford. Last summer, I worked at a budding music news company started by a Cornell alum. When I worked there the company’s budget really only allowed for equipment, a three-person paid staff and a bunch of unpaid interns. You wouldn’t have heard of the site. It isn’t Consequence of Sound or Spin or NME, but one day it could be.

When you create a two-tiered system for the Internet, you mess with competitive advantage. Not only does one company have to work as hard as it can to provide the best service for customers, it has to pay for a country club membership. The Internet providers claim that the slow lane or the “not hyperfast lane” won’t be any slower than the Internet we have now, so we won’t lose anything, but that’s hard to believe.

The Internet isn’t just a service Internet service providers, well, provide, it has become a marketplace, an important marketplace, and it deserves to enjoy the same relative openness and democracy of our other marketplaces. Yesterday was the last day that the FCC was accepting online comments from US citizens about the proposal. Now all we can do is wait for the FCC to grace us with its decision. In the meantime, read a little more about the issue, watch John Olivers’ hilarious video about Net Neutrality and stew. Go binge watch Netflix and try to imagine your life without it.

hilarious video about Net Neutrality and stew. Go binge watch Netflix and try to imagine your life without it.