The internet is in an uproar over the future of Net Neutrality, and for good reason. The FCC is planning to remove Title II classification from broadband providers. Without Title II, broadband providers (ISPs) could block content, create fast and slow lanes for consumers and even impose fees for specific websites or categories. So what does this mean for video creators online?
In short, ISPs could make it harder for your video content to reach the people you intend to reach.
Net Neutrality’s most vocal proponents use the hypothetical situation of ISPs blocking access to competitors of their television businesses. For example, Comcast ,who owns NBC, could block their customers’ access to Netflix. This is unlikely to happen, however, as ISPs would still be expected to followed antitrust laws (though whether or not these laws will be enforced is another story).
But ISPs could also block access to content it deems to be unlawful. This includes blanket blocks or throttling of platforms that peddle in user generated content. The Pirate Bay is a textbook example of unlawful content, but YouTube may fall under that blanket as well, since ISPs could argue that its unreasonable to expect any platform to police copyright violations and so it’s best to block the whole lot.
A more likely scenario is ISPs will strong-arm Google (i.e., YouTube) into taking an even heavier-handed approach to policing copyright violations of content owned by the ISP, throttling YouTube if Google doesn’t comply. Under this scenario, the already frequent ContentID flags YouTubers experience would be even more frequent.
Additionally, and even more likely, ISPs could charge a premium to either consumers, creators or distributors of streaming video content. That is, they could claim that video streaming is causing undue congestion on their networks and that in order to reduce bandwidth usage, they have to increase the cost of delivering video content. Since they’re still prohibited from engaging in anti-competitive behavior, this means blanket fees across all video streaming services. Basically, the cost of doing business as an online video creator would go up.
The reverse may happen as well. In fact, it already has. T-Mobile offers a mobile program called Binge On, which is a violation of Net Neutrality that is not being addressed by the FCC. Customers of Binge On can consume video content from Amazon, YouTube, Hulu and more streaming video providers without using any of their allotment of mobile data. Sounds great as a consumer, but as a video creator, you’re at a distinct disadvantage if you’re trying to distribute your video on a platform other than those blessed by T-Mobile. Forget trying to host videos yourself on your own website; T-Mobile customers will have to pay for that bandwidth and will be less likely to watch. Programs like this cement the competitive hold established companies currently have and cripple competition from new companies.
Even if ISPs don’t target the Netflix’s or Hulu’s of the world, It is possible ISPs could throttle platforms which independent creators rely on, but which ISPs consider a threat to their content business. For example, ISPs may charge YouTube and Vimeo enough in fees as to make it as expensive to publish content online as it is to broadcast on the airwaves or over cable lines. In doing so, they could argue that imposing these fees levels the playing field for video content, regardless of the distribution method.
Net Neutrality opponents often refer to the idea that competition will keep ISPs from imposing fees on popular sites and content or blocking some sites and platforms entirely. This argument ignores the fact that only 36 percent of urban census blocks and six percent of rural census blocks have more than one broadband provider. For the majority of Americans, there simply is no competition for broadband service. Without Title II and with no competition, ISPs will have no incentive to uphold the video delivery standards we’re used to today.
Whether or not you believe it’s the federal government’s responsibility to regulate ISPs in this way, one thing is clear. ISPs have a lot to gain and online video creators have a lot to lose.