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Why Net Neutrality Is Important for Online Streaming

Columbia Law Professor who coined the term net neutrality tells TheWrap why it matters so much to the entertainment industry

With the Federal Communications Commission seemingly on the brink of repealing net neutrality, it’s important to look at how an open internet benefits both the entertainment industry and its customers.

Columbia law professor Timothy Wu first coined the term in his 2003 paper “Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination.” Net neutrality prevents broadband providers from playing “favorites,” barring companies from slowing down or blocking access to particular sites, as well as from charging premiums to sites.

In an interview with TheWrap, Professor Wu highlighted net neutrality’s impact on popular streaming services.

“Without net neutrality, I don’t think you have this explosion of the streaming video industry — you don’t have Netflix getting started, you don’t have Amazon Prime in the game, [and] you don’t have HBO GO in the same form,” Wu said.

The FCC voted two-to-one to focus on two issues: whether the commission has the authority to enforce an “open” internet, and if the Title II designation — which prevents service providers from charging for “fast lanes” or slowing down access to particular sites — should be cast aside.

If the current rules are overturned, broadband and cable giants like AT&T, Comcast and Spectrum would be incentivized to cripple competing streaming services.

These providers “would’ve found a way to kill streaming video in the cradle, or at least make it so limited so it wouldn’t be attractive — or [make services] cost a lot more,” Wu said.

Both sides of the coin are unfavorable for consumers: if fees don’t cripple streaming services altogether, the cost would be passed along to the customer.

Exacerbating the issue is the broadband industry’s blindness — or stubbornness — in seeing its customers moving towards streaming content online.

“Cable’s main business is TV, and it was pretty obvious, even when I started, they were not interested in their broadband services cannibalizing their TV revenue,” said Wu.  “Why would a business who’s main business is video want to allow a new kind of video — on demand, streaming video, [which is] much cheaper — to suddenly start competing with it?”

It doesn’t take much of a leap to see how net neutrality is important for artists as well. Allowing broadband providers to charge sites like Netflix and YouTube would leave less money to invest in original content. If the streaming TV boom is to continue, the preservation of net neutrality is imperative.