Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

‘Don’t look behind that curtain!’

Call it the Comcast Op/Ed. When I read on a site such as Bloomberg BusinessWeekly that Netflix may “kill the internet,” I tend to ask why it would tell me this.

Man drawn on sheet of burning paper tries to blow it out.

Comcast presents its best arguments against
a changing internet.
[ Image Source ]

What appears clear so far is not that Netflix and similar online content providers will damage the interests of internet users — which is far from proven to my satisfaction — but that they do threaten the profit margins of Comcast and other broadband internet service providers. Such entities fondly hope to perpetuate a prosperous (for them) status quo that is inherently unstable: In a rapidly changing economy with fast-evolving technologies, virtually no business sector can reasonably expect to continue doing the same things the same way and be rewarded with continued tenure atop the pecuniary pyramid.

But even if the ISPs win their battle against Netflix, using articles like this one to sway public and legislative opinion in their favor, they will eventually lose the war against the innumerable new content providers that are emerging into the marketplace. It may be that some sort of compromise will be achieved using metered service, but since there are many millions of users who are accustomed to paying a flat fee for internet service regardless of how much content they transfer, the ISPs cannot hope to wring enough from the sort of model that is likely to prove acceptable to their customers to remain the moneymakers to which their shareholders have become accustomed.

This, of course, is why the ISPs — most notably Comcast — will use every weapon at their disposal to destroy net neutrality; certainly this article is not the first I have read in a corporate-oriented publication advocating against the principle, and such articles amount to useful propaganda for the industry. If they can succeed in taking control of the chokepoints of the internet — if they can effectively crowd out competition — they will be in a far stronger position to set the terms under which internet commerce and content transfer will be conducted.

Ultimately, though, the ISPs are trying to push back a tsunami with a mop and bucket. Profits will fall, competition will arise, millions of users will demand net neutrality, and ... what? Simply put, the ISPs will have to adapt to a new marketplace in which their old models will no longer serve them so well. Then they will have a choice: Innovate and provide services and rates attractive enough to lure users to stay with or transfer to them — and sustain these services, because the market is too fluid to be cornered — or continue their vain struggles against free enterprise as properly defined (in which heavy competition forces sellers to offer better products and services than their rivals) and eventually retreat into a fortress of inertia in which they do the same things for ever-falling rewards.

Originally published as an adverse review of a businessweek.com article promulgating the argument that apex ISPs should be able to control more of the internet.

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