Netflix just launched a new service, Fast.com, which allows people to check their download speed. It seems like a pretty mundane tool that only techie’s or people who love arguing with their ISP’s would care about but that belies the brilliant move that Netflix just made.
To understand why this is so important we should first look at the pre-existing services that allowed you to test your download speeds. Speedtest.net is the most ubiquitous tool for checking your download speeds online, while that gives it legitimacy, it also allows ISP’s to prioritize traffic to this site. It is technically possible that an ISP may provide prioritized traffic to Speedtest.net but slowing down or severely limiting to sites such as YouTube or Netflix in an attempt to limit how much a customer can download. This is a violation of net neutrality, a system that if in place would force ISP’s to treat all data as the same thus removing the possibility for Comcast (who is owned by NBCUniversal) to prioritize their own entertainment services over 3rd party services like Netflix. The scary thing is that, Comcast did something very similar, allowing their data to not count against their customers data caps while watching on Xbox 360’s, but counting data from services such as Netflix, HBO GO, and YouTube. Net neutrality is not a dead debate and it is important to be vigilant of how your data is processed.
The genius behind Netflix creating Fast.com is that they are hosting the service from the same servers that host Netflix.com. This removes the ability of ISP’s to prioritize fast.com data without prioritizing Netflix.com traffic, essentially this forces the hand of ISP’s to treat Netflix data fairly or be publicly shamed and most likely fined by the FCC. What this does not fix is data discrimination to other sites like HBO GO or YouTube, but the fix is simple, just provide a speed test function with your website to ensure no prioritization. While this is a move that strikes back at overstepping ISP’s I think it speaks more to the unfortunate environment that the internet has become, dominated by large corporations who have other interests besides providing the best internet access possible.
In conclusion, yes, this is something that techies get excited about, but this has larger implications for anyone who access the internet. Fair access to the internet is something that we need to ensure because this is a global service, we cannot be limited by corporate or national interests. For the first time in history we have a technology that binds us together as a whole, we cannot let ourselves divide it up.