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Indie ISP to Netflix: Give it a rest about 'net neutrality' – and get your checkbook out

The side of the debate you don't often hear

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A pioneering American community ISP is telling customers that Netflix should spend more time improving its technology, more money on its network – and less energy on lobbying in Washington DC.

BSD developer and author Brett Glass founded Lariat.net in Wyoming in 1992, making it one of the first ISPs in the world. He told The Register that he's fed up with Netflix hiding behind the "net neutrality" lobbying movement, and says it should invest in better infrastructure and better technology instead.

Glass said he believes the net neutrality debate is fundamentally misleading - with large corporations using deceptive language (does anyone actually want a “closed internet”?) and squabbling about lowering their costs.  Netflix is an “over the top” (OTT) video service that generates enormous costs - but does demand that tiny community ISPs pay a hefty upfront fee, says Glass.

Glass told us:

Netflix generates huge amounts of wasteful, redundant traffic and then refuses to allow ISPs to correct this inefficiency via caching. It fails to provide adequate bandwidth for its traffic to ISPs' "front doors" and then blames their downstream networks when in fact they are more than adequate.

It exercises market power over ISPs - one of the first questions asked by every customer who calls us is, "How well do you stream Netflix?" - in an attempt to force them to host their servers for free and to build out network connections for which it should be footing the bill.

Netflix told us that, if we wanted to improve streaming performance, we should pay $10,000 per month for a dedicated link, spanning nearly 1,000 miles, to one of its "peering points" – just to serve it and no other streaming provider.) It then launches misleading PR campaigns against ISPs that dare to object to this behavior.

Part of the problem is that Netflix doesn’t make its content cacheable, even in encrypted form. It could save enormous costs and customer problems if it kept a cache of even the Top 10 shows at a server, argues Glass.

“Netflix asks large ISPs (but not small ones) to host its servers –they are not caches but servers – for free. Alas, not only are the servers power hogs, but Netflix pumps terabytes of data into each one every day, sapping huge amounts of bandwidth from the ISP," he says.

"We tell prospective customers that we provide a guaranteed amount of capacity for them to the nearest major Internet hub. However, because Netflix does not have a presence at that hub, has failed to invest in adequate infrastructure, will not build out to our ISP as it has to larger ones such as Comcast, and needlessly wastes network capacity, they may or may not get adequate performance.”

Everyone loves the idea of small community ISPs, but their needs seem to have been forgotten. We’ll watch out to see if any others follow suit.

You can get an insight into running a wireless ISP from this video of a talk by Glass at (ironically) Berkman. ®

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