When I was a media specialist (school librarian), I used to read a book called The Toll-Bridge Troll (say that three times fast). It was about a mean little troll that would stop people, usually poor innocent children, at his bridge and demand they pay him a fee for crossing. One smart little boy decided that he couldn’t afford the “penny a day” fees the troll demanded from him, and came up with a plan to use riddles to trick the troll into letting him across.
What does this have to do with Comcast? I’m so glad you asked. The executives of the giant cable company apparently are not satisfied with their large pots of gold and believe they need to charge Internet companies for sending data through their network. One such company, Level 3, is a particularly big blip on their radar, and they are demanding that the Internet media business pay them a toll to use their bridge: your cable Internet service.
Level 3 is the current service provider for Netflix, and it is no surprise that after multiple news sources announced that 20% of all Internet traffic is used just for streaming their videos, that Comcast would want a piece of the action. But instead of brokering some deal that would get Netflix more content or provide Netflix users with something extra, Comcast just wants their money because they happen to own the bridge.
Apparently, when Netflix used Akami to stream their content, Comcast had an “arrangement” with Akami to pay the toll. Shockingly, Level 3 has the audacity to believe that the Internet is free and open and doesn’t belong to anyone. The end result of any situation like this is higher prices for customers. Either Comcast will raise rates to still eat their cake and have it too, or Level 3 will cave to pressure and turn around and charge Netflix more, which will result in higher Netflix prices. Either way, you, the consumer, get trolled.
Net Neutrality, which was one of the rallying cries for the Obama campaign, is under attack from companies like Comcast, which sees Netflix as a threat to their cable television empire. This has long been a concern, since it creates a conflict of interest. For a television and movie company to also offer Internet service, they would potentially undercut their own business by offering people speeds fast enough to stream and download movies from someone else. Last year we saw Time Warner try to sneak in bandwidth caps, which was undoubtedly aimed at cutting down on the amount of streaming video people could watch.
If the FCC allows this type of toll bridge troll extortion to take place, you can bet that other media companies will follow and other content providers, like Apple (iTunes), Amazon (OnDemand video), and Hulu.com may come face-to-face with the same ugly troll. Time to dust off the old riddle book.