Commentary

If Your ISP Slows Down 'House of Cards,' Will You Riot In The Streets?

As Season Two of the mighty “House of Cards,” the most-watched show in the history of Netflix in every country that Netflix is in, looms large on everyone's calendar (Valentine's Day), it is worth noting a study the streaming company released that said "binge-watching doesn't keep viewers on the couch -- it can actually get them on the treadmill."

In this survey, 45% of respondents said they would be more motivated to exercise if they could watch their favorite shows on-demand, commercial-free. The veracity of such a claim is roughly equivalent to tobacco companies saying that smokers are getting healthier because the laws now make them walk outside to light up. It seems to me that Netflix should relax and be satisfied that it took some of the stink off the word "binge."

Rather than issuing meaningless studies, Netflix might want to spend a little more time worrying about emerging evidence that some broadband vendors are starting to slow down transmission of their programming in preparation for hitting them with fees to avoid herky-jerky streaming. (Thank you, D.C. Circuit court, for screwing with net neutrality.) It will be pointless for Netflix to spend a reported $6.2 billion on new content over the next three years, if its customers don't get seamless viewing.

The issue will come down to whether the Feds decide the Internet is a utility rather than a news, information and entrainment pipe -- say, like cable. If you think of historical precedents, you can remember when you had to pay more the longer you talked on the phone (for our younger readers, that is also a function of your texting and selfie machine, see under "Getting Started."). But competitive pressures (not least of which was Internet-based calls and wireless) drove the phone companies toward all-you-can-eat pricing while reducing overall costs to consumers. There is already talk of folks moving their broadband business away from ISPs who start slowing down throughput.

It's extremely difficult to be sympathetic to broadband providers who argue that increased video streaming is costing THEM more money, when Time Warner Cable says its revenue in the last 90 days from residential high-speed Internet subscribers was $1.53 billion, and we see headlines like "Comcast Profit Jumps 28.6% on Growth of Broadband."

All this profit, when the broadband speed they are delivering is a fraction of what the Japanese and South Koreans get for a third the price. In terms of overall speed, the U.S. ranks 12th in the world behind economic and technology powerhouses like Latvia and Romania. (I'm sorry, but I am not moving to Ephrata, Wash., Kansas City or Chattanooga just so I can watch eight screens of porn at the same time).

However this plays out, don't try to call, text or email me for three days after Feb 14. I have a date with Claire Underwood.

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