Netflix: Look folks, it's net neutrality... HA, fooled you

OTT video giant cheerily dons unicorn-slaying gloves

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Well, that didn't take long. "Net neutrality" lobbyist Netflix has smashed a rule that net neutrality activists view as sacred.

Netflix is about to launch in Australia and New Zealand after signing what it calls "un-metering agreements" with ISPs.

This means that Netflix traffic will be zero rated, and won't count as part of a consumer's bundle. In practice this means you can slurp as much of the company's OTT TV box sets and movies as you like without worrying about filling up your bandwidth bucket.

What's the problem, you may ask? Movie and music companies – including Spotify – have struck such deals for years. So too have Google, Facebook and Wikipedia. The benefits are obvious: the ISP receives some help from the OTT data hog, and stops grumbling. It makes the OTT service more attractive. And the consumer can stop worrying about metering.

Yet net neutrality activists, in a nutshell, have decided this kind of commercial arrangement is evil. Their sacred unicorn may be in peril. One told El Reg this week:

“Zero-rating is throttling… Zero-rating also segments the market in the same way as geo-blocking, as users will be limited to home-country use."

Netflix happily pays for direct peering into ISPs all over the world; in the UK, it's part of a revenue-share deal with the ISP. Yet to Americans, Netflix presents a different face: as a beleaguered outsider being blackmailed into onerous commercial deals. The latest un-metered arrangement is an example of hypocrisy, says one academic, Ros Layton, a PhD Fellow studying net neutrality at Aalborg University:

"Now we see yet another Netflix double-standard: they want other companies to be regulated and they lobby heavily for net neutrality and price controls on their competitors. Meanwhile, Netflix wants to avoid the regulatory microscope on their own activities," she told us.

"Netflix likes priority deals when they work in their favour. Net neutrality activists around the world should feel betrayed by Netflix’s activity – unless what they really support is a two-tiered internet, one where everyone pays for Netflix, and another where only Netflix subscribers pay."

Meanwhile, Netflix appears to be anxious about what it helped unleash.

"Were we pleased it pushed to Title II? Probably not… we were hoping there would be a non-regulated solution," Netflix's chief beancounter told a financial conference this week.

It's a bit late for that now. ®

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