Is the streaming media panic over? What about net neutrality? If your home theater movies and music come from online streaming media companies, you should be concerned.
Less than two weeks ago we shared with you some data showing that users of Comcast and Verizon’s high-speed internet services were getting substantially poorer Netflix performance than pretty much everyone else in Internetlandia. That of course was surprising considering that those two ISPs are among the biggest (and growing) in the US, and the drop in performance had all the signs of bandwidth throttling (though the companies say that wasn’t the case).
Throttling or no, the solution was/is more money—both Comcast and Verizon asked Netflix to pay up in order to allow a better connection to their respective pipes. It looks like the ISPs got what they wanted, because both are now reporting agreements either in the works or in place with Netflix. House of Cards fans across the country are breathing a sigh of relief.
But is the problem really over? No way. While Netflix, being a huge bandwidth hog, is the obvious low-hanging fruit for ISPs, it’s unlikely to be the last one. Media stream has seen a surge over the past few years in the form of video services like Netflix, Amazon and VUDU as well as audio streaming, which seems to see a new service launch every week. People no longer think of their broadband pipe as something that pulls data every now and then when they need it—it’s pulling constantly all day long. How many of you reading this now are also listening to Pandora?
As we, consumers, come to value those media streams more than the traditional streams coming from cable TV connections (and subsequently dump those cable subscriptions) the ISPs are going to see dollar signs before their eyes. How long before Comcast and Verizon start asking for money from Amazon or VUDU (both huge companies, by the way), or Google (for its YouTube streams) and eventually move onto music service? Not long, I believe. The company that comes out with a high-resolution music streaming service may have to pay for the pipe too.
This isn’t exactly throttling or extortion. What Comcast and Verizon are offering Netflix is a (more) direct connection so it can freely feed their streams into the larger data river.
What about big social media sites? That’s already happened. According to a CNN Money article Facebook already pays for connections to ISPs.
Some of these little pay-for-access deals may eventually cost users more in subscription fees or cost advertisers more for space on those sites.
Will higher subscriptions for Netflix and Amazon (both companies had been contemplating increases anyway), more ads or higher fees for streaming music and social media and whatever comes next lead to a slow down in our move to internet-sourced media?
Could this also impact all the cloud-based home automation and security companies that depend on the internet to send alerts and commands to and from users’ smart phones. What happens when you don’t get the alert that your house is being robbed or burning down because XYZ Security didn’t pay Comcast for a better connection?
If you’re still having a streaming problem, just remember, Blu-ray discs still work and look better anyway.
Are you concerned about rising fees or other implications as a result of this? Tell us about it in the comments below.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.