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In recent weeks, Netflix and Reddit have emerged as the biggest proponents of Network neutrality, a system by which all Internet traffic is treated equally. Their voices have grown louder since a federal appeals court struck down Net neutrality in January, opening the door for Internet service providers (ISP) to begin blocking certain websites or encouraging others to pay a premium for priority access to web consumers.
Netflix, an online service that provides access to movies and television shows over the Internet for a low monthly cost, knows firsthand what it’s like for an ISP to ask for more money. Recently, Netflix begrudgingly agreed to pay Comcast and Verizon for a so-called “peering agreement” after both services began dramatically reducing the Internet speeds of its customers. A recent chart published by the Washington Post shows a steep decline in the average Internet speed of a Comcast user connecting to Netflix last year before a sharp increase once a peering agreement had been reached between the two companies. For its troubles, Netflix says it opposes a proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, the two largest broadband Internet providers in the country, valued at tens of billions of dollars.
Netflix is not alone in its crusade for Net neutrality: Alexis Ohanian started the user-generated news and entertainment portal Reddit in 2005 with zero connections and $12,000 in the bank. Today, Reddit is a powerhouse social publisher that gets more Internet traffic than the websites of established legacy brands like the New York Times or CNN.
But Ohanian is worried if ISPs are permitted to charge access tolls or establish Internet “fast lanes” for the free-flow of content, today’s fledgling startups won’t be able to afford the same success Reddit had nearly a decade ago.
“I want there to be a competitor to Netflix,” Ohanian recently told NPR. “We all want there to be a competitor to Netflix, and it is going to be a lot harder now for a viable, streaming alternative to Netflix to spring up.”
Reddit and Netflix have emerged as the most-vocal tech brands to rally around Net neutrality — for no other reason than their businesses depend on it. But other businesses depend on it too: Amazon, Apple and Google operate streaming video services similar to Netflix, differed only slightly by their business models (Apple and Google sell a-la-carte access to movies and TV shows; Amazon does a little bit of both). Facebook and Twitter would almost certainly face a backlash by users if Internet service providers suddenly decide to throttle access speeds unless either social network agreed to pay the same toll Netflix did.
So why aren’t more tech giants — who vocalized their staunch oppression to the National Security Agency’s domestic and foreign surveillance programs when they were illicitly disclosed last summer — voicing their solidarity with Netflix and Reddit?
For some, that support could create complications with respect to ongoing business deals. Apple is said to be working out a deal with Comcast to launch some kind of streaming TV service. If those reports are true, Apple’s biggest competitors — Google, Microsoft and Amazon — would almost certainly follow suit by inking similar deals with pay TV companies, the same ones that also offer broadband Internet to a majority of American households.
Apple, Google and Microsoft also have arrangements with AT&T and Verizon, the two largest cellular phone companies in the country, to sell mobile phones to their customers. Google and Aol are both online service companies and ISPs — Google operates a broadband internet service called Google Fiber in a handful of American cities, and Aol’s dial-up business still has about two million subscribers generating tens of millions of dollars annually for the company. Yahoo! doesn’t offer home Internet service, but it does power a content platform for AT&T customers.
The absence of America’s most-lucrative technology companies from the recent debate probably shouldn’t come as a surprise given their relationships with companies that would benefit from a lack of Net neutrality. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be viewed as an endorsement of the ISP’s position that not regulating the Internet would be good for consumers.
On Monday, The Desk e-mailed ten technology companies — Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Yahoo!, Aol, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify and Dropbox — with one simple question: What is your company’s position on Net neutrality? As the responses come in, they’ll be recorded below:
An Apple spokesperson did not respond to The Desk‘s request for comment. However, Apple was one of several companies to sign a letter challenging the FCC’s decision to allow so-called “Internet fast lanes.”
A Google spokesperson did not respond to The Desk‘s request for comment. However, Google signed the same letter to the FCC that Apple and several others endorsed, challenging the FCC’s decision to allow so-called “Internet fast lanes.”
“Microsoft has long been in support of the FCC’s adoption of Net neutrality rules,” a Microsoft spokesperson told The Desk by e-mail on Tuesday. The spokesperson then linked to a February 2014 blog entry in which Microsoft’s David Tennenhouse wrote that Net neutrality is necessary so that consumers may “continue to have access to any legal content and services they choose, and their traffic should not be subject to unreasonable discrimination by their broadband provider. They should also be able to attach their choice of devices to networks and have accurate information about their service plans.”
Tennenhouse did not explain what Microsoft considered “unreasonable discrimination” of broadband traffic. The Desk has reached out to Microsoft for clarification on this line.
An Amazon spokesperson did not respond to The Desk‘s request for comment. Like Google and Apple, Amazon co-signed a letter to the FCC challenging the agency’s decision to allow “Internet fast lanes.”
Yahoo! spokeswoman Suzanne Philion said the company did not have a direct comment on its position regarding Net neutrality, but referred The Desk to a statement made by the Internet Association last week.
“The Internet Association supports enforceable net neutrality rules to ensure that the Internet remains open and free from discriminatory or anticompetitive actions by broadband gatekeepers,” the Internet Association’s Michael Beckerman wrote on April 25. “We look forward to seeing Chairman Wheeler’s full proposal and will reserve comments based on a complete review until then. However, we are concerned with reports that indicate that the proposed policies risk departing from the history of the free and open Internet by allowing broadband gatekeepers to decide what websites run the fastest. We do not believe that type of policy is consistent with our support for an open Internet founded on consumer choice and innovation. We look forward to working with Chairman Wheeler and his fellow commissioners at the FCC to ensure that the Internet remains a vibrant platform for consumer choice and economic growth.”
Yahoo! is a member of the Internet Association.
“At Aol, we are concerned about the possibility of an Internet fast lane available to companies that can afford it,” Aol spokesperson Carolien Campbell told The Desk by e-mail on Monday. “It’s premature to predict whether a fast lane will be allowed, as the proposed FCC rules have not yet been released. But equal treatment of all content and all users has been the essence of the open Internet. This principle is all the more important now that online video, and particularly mobile video, is set to become an ever larger part of the user’s experience. Aol has been a leader in online video. For its part, Aol is committed to working with regulators to make sure the rules of the road keep the road open to all.”
Facebook spokeswoman Michelle Cecchetti said on Monday that the company declined to comment.
Twitter spokesperson Nu Wexler responded on Monday with a brief statement: “Twitter supports net neutrality and we will be involved in the FCC process as it proceeds this year.”
A Spotify spokesperson has not yet responded to The Desk‘s for comment. Company employees were likely asleep when contacted by The Desk as Spotify is based in Europe.
Dropbox spokeswoman Meagan Ward said the company declined to comment.