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Google, Netflix ready next weapon in net neutrality battle: The fury of millions

Duo not afraid to rope in punters in battle against 'draconian' ISPs

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Comment As the future of net neutrality hangs in the balance, Google and Netflix have this week decided that offense is the best defense. The two web kingpins are preparing to rally millions of netizens to their cause, namely that their internet traffic should be free to flow unmolested by broadband providers.

It comes as Verizon won a court ruling to derail the FCC's campaign to compel cable companies to treat all network packets equally, on the basis that the US watchdog didn't have the power to make such a demand in the first place. The FCC, activists and internet firms want so-called net neutrality enforced to ensure select websites aren't given preferential or detrimental network bandwidth over others.

Bringing this to the doorstep of non-tech savvy folks, Google has this week launched its Video Quality Report website – which tries to explain in simple terms how cat videos and such like on YouTube are routed through broadband providers to billions of computers and handheld gadgets worldwide. And if your video stream breaks down, we know who you should blame, suggests Google.

"When your ISP receives your video from YouTube, they begin the important job of carrying it across their network to your home," the search giant said, illustrating this with a blocked pipe.

"We can’t do it alone. They must ensure there’s enough capacity where they receive the data from YouTube. Otherwise, your video streaming quality will suffer.

"In addition to congestion in your ISP’s network, your video performance can also be affected by the size of the ISP’s connection into your home, your Wi-Fi setup, and other in-home factors such as the number of connected devices."

Google offers to (and does) place YouTube cache servers within internet providers' networks, to bring content closer to users, and has peering agreements with ISPs, which is pretty typical in the industry. Google also has various tricks up its sleeve for improving streaming and data compression.

The new video quality website promises to (eventually) test and report the standard of one's connection: presumably folks with crap connectivity will be directed towards the culprits to vent their ire.

Meanwhile, Netflix – which has roughly 40 million subscribers globally – yesterday warned its investors (and the wider world) that TV cable companies and other ISPs could arbitrarily strangle access to online video sites or block them entirely unless, say, said websites coughed up some cash. If this were to happen, Netflix vowed it would unleash hell.

"In principle, a domestic ISP now can legally impede the video streams that members request from Netflix, degrading the experience we jointly provide. The motivation could be to get Netflix to pay fees to stop this degradation," Netflix's top execs wrote [PDF] in reference to the Verizon legal win.

"Were this draconian scenario to unfold with some ISP, we would vigorously protest and encourage our members to demand the open internet they are paying their ISP to deliver."

AT&T further fueled the net neutrality flames this month when it introduced a system which lets website owners foot a portion of their visitors' broadband bills.

While opponents of net neutrality enforcement believe that market dynamics will prevent ISPs from throttling traffic on popular services, advocates have noted that in most markets – particular the United States of America – consumers have little realistic choice in providers. Google, meanwhile, is gradually expanding its high-speed fiber internet into cities in the US.

Without controls to ensure neutrality, many believe that ISPs will look to bring about a multi-tiered internet in which ISPs can charge site operators for access to their customers and limit the ability for users to access certain platforms and services. ®

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