Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Last-Mile Monopolies

ArsTechnica recently reported on how Comcast is indirectly charging Netflix in preferential treatment to its own IPTV service. The report has the colorful title How Comcast became a toll-collecting, nuke-wielding hydra.

In a nutshell (as far as I understand it), Comcast has a customer relationship with L3 Communications, a top-tier network. Since Comcast has so many customers, they have not traditionally had to pay L3 for their connection. In the meantime, L3 has been building a CDN business, and Netflix (the number one source of bandwidth on the Internet) is now using this CDN service. Comcast, whose customers are paying $50 per month for their Internet connections, are now charging L3 to fulfill these customers' requests to Netflix.

In other words, these people are not just paying Comcast for their Internet connection and Netflix for their movies, but they are now also paying Netflix to pay L3 to pay Comcast for their Internet connection again. Since Comcast is a last-mile monopoly, neither their customers nor service providers have any practical recourse.

Of course, customers don't currently see any of this. My suggestion is for Netflix to charge more per month for Comcast customers than for anyone else. Not only would this keep other Netflix customers from having to foot the bill, but it would also help Comcast's customers understand what is going on. Those few who have the option of switching to a different ISP can do so, and the others can become proponents of network neutrality legislation.

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