Award Winning Blog

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mission Critical Bits and Pay to Play Net Bias

             The proliferation of video content options via the Internet raises questions about what ISPs can and should do to offer “better than best efforts” to enhance quality of service.  Is this an opportunity for “pay to play” extortion, or welcomed quality of service discrimination?  One might assert the lack of a need for service prioritization in light of the absence of network congestion, but as bandwidth intensive, video demand increases does this conclusion make sense?

            Video content often qualifies as “mission critical bits” whose delivery must arrive on time, or the streaming content freezes and evaporates.  For example, Netflix and its subscribers expect each and every link to work with sufficient switching, routing and transmission capacity to deliver packets on a timely basis.  Few Netflix subscribers would stick with the company if suddenly full motion video streams became slide shows of random frames. 

            Increasingly ISPs want to secure surcharge payments from companies like Netflix to guarantee timely packet delivery.  So on top of the double-sided market where ISPs already receive payments from end users and upstream carriers, such as Content Distribution Networks, a third revenue stream should flow further upstream from content providers like Netflix.  Is this being greedy, particularly in light of what ISPs markets to subscribers?  Bear in mind that traditionally both peering and transit agreements involved directly interconnecting carriers, not ones further upstream or downstream.

            Broadband end users expect their $50-75 monthly subscriptions to cover the cost of access without a surcharge to them and others for the privilege of accessing full motion video sites.  ISPs already have the option of charging more for high volume users.  ISPs: send “broadband hogs” fruit packets and a higher bill, not throttled service.  ISPs also tier service based on bit transmission speed.  Are they entitled to more compensation from the sources of content that motivate broadband subscriptions in the first place?