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Netflix was heralded only recently as a strong supporter of net neutrality, but the company has changed its position in the wake the the FCC’s decision to reclassify broadband ISPs as common carriers. The link goes to a Google search page. The top article listed there should be ungated, from L. Gordon Crovitz in the Wall Street Journal. I have posted a number of times on the misguided policy of net neutrality (see here, here, here, and here). While I hesitate to post on the topic again, I think a short description of the Netflix flip-flop, or should I say its “evolving position“, is worthwhile, and especially with a few quotes from the Crovitz article.

Crovitz notes that Netflix videos “take up one-third of broadband nationwide at peak times.” The company’s support for so-called neutrality seemed grounded in its frustration at the prospect of having to negotiate for massive use of resources controlled and sometimes owned by the ISPs. Here’s Crovitz:

Today Netflix is a poster child for crony capitalism. When CEO Reed Hastings lobbied for Internet regulations, all he apparently really wanted was for regulators to tilt the scales in his direction with service providers. Or as Geoffrey Manne of the International Center for Law and Economics put it in Wired: ‘Did we really just enact 300 pages of legally questionable, enormously costly, transformative rules just to help Netflix in a trivial commercial spat?‘”

Indeed! But the powers at Netflix have had a revelation:

Net-neutrality advocates oppose ‘fast lanes’ on the Internet, arguing they put startups at a disadvantage. Netflix could not operate without fast lanes and even built its own content-delivery network to reduce costs and improve quality. This approach will now be subject to the ‘just and reasonable’ test. The FCC could force Netflix to open its proprietary delivery network to competitors and pay broadband providers a ‘fair’ price for its share of usage.

There’s no need for the FCC to override the free-market agreements that make the Internet work so well. Fast lanes like Netflix’s saved the Internet from being overwhelmed, and there is nothing wrong with the ‘zero cap’ approach Netflix is using in Australia. Consumers benefit from lower-priced services.

I will leave you with my favorite part of the Crovitz piece:

Last week John Perry Barlow, the Grateful Dead lyricist-turned-Internet-evangelist, participated in a conference call of Internet pioneers opposed to the FCC treating the Internet as a utility. He called the regulatory step ‘singular arrogance.’

In 1996 Mr. Barlow’s ‘Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’ helped inspire a bipartisan consensus for the open Internet: ‘Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.’