Netflix Partners With Verizon To Deliver Content, Performance Plunges Anyway

From the beginning, the anti-net neutrality argument has been built on a single premise: Give companies free rein to charge more money for services, and they'll respond by improving the customer experience, rolling out service to more people, and aggressively adopting faster technology. Over the past few months, Netflix has served as an unofficial test drive for this theory -- the company has begun paying both Comcast and Verizon directly to improve Netflix performance.

The result?  Comcast, at least, has improved dramatically. Verizon, on the other hand, continues to crater -- its FiOS service fell two spots to 12th place.  

Verizon, naturally enough, has attempted to blame Netflix for this, claiming that the company is trying to inflate its own profit margins. This argument falls utterly to pieces when you consider that the cable companies and other ISPs, like Verizon, make a 97% profit margin on providing Internet service. That's according to research done by Wall Street firm Bernstein Research, and it shows just how absurd the anti-net neutrality position is. Furthermore, it's not at all clear how Netflix could improve its own profitability by sabotaging its service.

Then again, this is Verizon -- the company is currently under investigation in multiple states for refusing to repair copper wire infrastructure, telling customers it would take weeks, reportedly firing the staff responsible for maintaining that infrastructure, then using this as justification for removing it. They've switched people to fiber without telling them that certain services would no longer be available thereafter, then refused to replace the copper service for those customers who genuinely needed it for active home alarms or other types of products that depend on an electric pulse traveling down the phone line.

The Larger Problem:

I admit, I'm soap boxing a little here, but I want to point out how these trends work directly against the kind of level playing field the Internet was supposed to create. When your ISP and your content provider get into a fight, they often use every tactic to twist the consumer experience. Content vanishes from services. Certain websites can't be viewed. TV channels go offline.

While it's true that these kinds of disagreements always had the potential to damage subscribers, they've become more mainstream as cable and satellite coverage became both ubiquitous and expensive. Now, so-called cable-cutting services, like Netflix and Amazon Prime, are even more vulnerable to manipulation.

The current structure of these services allows warring parties to blame each other while no one provides any kind of relief to the actual paying customer. It brings to mind the Kiswahili proverb: "When elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers."