"Netflix Neutralizes Net Neutrality." Sounds like a perfect headline from Variety, doesn't it? Snappy, to the point, lots of alliteration? However, the news that's been lighting up the Interwebs for the past two days - that Netflix has cut a deal with Comcast to ensure that its data packets are delivered in a timely fashion to hungry House of Cards binge-ers - is not so cut-and-dried. Because Google is standing in the wings.
Netflix has come a long way since those red envelopes started showing up in your mailbox. The company's streaming video service is now responsible for nearly 32% of the Internet traffic in North America. YouTube follows with nearly 19%
And herein lies the rub. I'm not sure Google wants to play second fiddle when it comes to the burgeoning streaming entertainment marketplace. 32% = lots of traffic that Google is unable to monetize. That 32% represents an opportunity for Google, and perhaps an opportunity for Net Neutrality.
The gaping hole in Net Neutrality lies in the peering agreements between bandwidth providers that allow data transfer across multiple networks. ISP's are starting to fight back against bandwidth-heavy services, like Netflix. Netflix previously responded by building its own Content Delivery Network (CDN) called OpenConnect, and proceeded to sign up a number of providers, including Google Fiber, the bandwidth service being rolled out by Google. But now it seems that Netflix has decided that it's better to go right to the source, and just pay for better access.
Yes, all this is as complicated as that illegal foreign-money-funneling scheme that pitted Vice President Underwood against Raymond Turk. (See House of Cards, above.) But it's important, and furthermore, Google has known how important it is for years. Google bought one of the country's most important telecom-peering points in 2010. They've been buying dark fiber for quite some time. Just last week, Google announced the expansion of the Google Fiber program to nine more US cities.
Is Google moving towards being a full-blown ISP? Perhaps. But Google actually has a checkered history when it comes to operating businesses that fall far outside its core competency (see: Motorola Mobility). What the company is doing well? Building and extending ecosystems (see: Android & Chrome). And what ecosystem can they extend once they've succeeded at establishing non-tiered network access as the norm?
My bet is that it's aimed right at that 32% of traffic currently owned by Netflix. What do you think?