foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world

Attack on net neutrality right here in New Zealand

, posted: 3-Apr-2012 12:21

A very good article today on the NZ Herald web site about how Sky's exclusive deals are locking out possible competitors in the emerging video streaming market. Specifically: Sky has struck special deals with a number of ISPs in New Zealand, which gives customers un-metered access to Sky's online streaming services. Sounds, good, doesn't it? Free online TV for consumers, what could possibly be wrong with that?

Well, a number of things:
  1. It shows how cheap national bandwidth here in New Zealand really is and that any ISP charging us an arm and a leg for domestic bandwidth (Same price as international bandwidth? Please!) is basically grossly overcharging us. But while annoying enough, that's actually besides the point for this article. More importantly:
  2. Sky's deals with the ISPs are exclusive deals, meaning, these ISPs are now prevented from offering similar deals for other online streaming services. Thus, upstarts like Quickflix are essentially prevented from entering the market on an equal footing.
  3. New Zealand ISPs are all too willing to violate the principles of net neutrality. Whenever some money is waved in front of them, principles go out the window and it's time to spinelessly roll over for the sake of the almighty dollar.
This is not the first such violation. A while back already I noticed a number of special deals for mobile applications: Check your Facebook account for free! and similar. Basically, Facebook and Twitter access from mobile applications wouldn't incur those astronomical data charges that mobile carriers like to inflict on us, while any competition to Facebook and Twitter... well, they would be out of luck. Who wants to use them when accessing their sites from a mobile device would cost so much money?

But we, the sheeple, cannot look past the fact that companies never offer things for FREE (sp) out of the goodness of their heart. We don't like to think stuff like this through, we don't realize that any time we avail ourselves of such a 'generous' offer, we are shooting ourselves in the foot, wrapping ourselves ever more tightly into chains of dependency and limit our own choices for the future.

If we want to pay less for online streaming, checking our facebook account from mobile apps, and so on, then we should let our ISPs and mobile providers know that we will always choose the one with the cheapest data charges, one which doesn't overcharge for domestic bandwidth, and not one who violates net neutrality and gives some content a preferential treatment, thus being an accomplice in the systematic removal of choice and competition in the market.

Sometimes, you need to look a gift horse in the mouth and realize that this horse is as bad a gift as that famous wooden one in Troy.

Other related posts:
How about: Three strikes and YOU are out, Xnet?
ISP filtering in Australia: Think about the children!
Richard Stallman in Auckland: On copyright in a networked world

Comment by Byron McLean, on 3-Apr-2012 17:45

Hey there foobar, Mauricio linked to your post on twitter, I said the following, can you respond? I'm interested in your response :)

@freitasm don't believe this is accurate? Sight a source stating that a) an ISP can only unmeter iSky, b) that Sky pay any money?

@freitasm it's more down to the ISP wanting to differentiate/add value. Don't get me wrong, I believe we need regulation, but [substantiated] facts too.

Disclaimer, I work for TelstraClear (who doesn't unmeter iSky) and the tweets and this post, are my own personal opinion.

Comment by Ragnor, on 3-Apr-2012 18:10

Across the board un-metering of things coming from server hosted in your ISP's data centre/network OR accessible by cheap/open peering = good
eg: akamai, steam content mirror, google/youtube cache.

Individual customers paying extra to specifically un-meter certain sites (like Snap's Google/Youtbue addon) = a bad slippery slope.

There is nothing stopping Quickflix from putting servers in NZ connected to APE/WIX which would allow most local ISP's to un-meter content to/from it.

Given the above your argument against iSKY seems to be a bit overblown imo.

Comment by sbiddle, on 3-Apr-2012 19:57

Net neutrality is a myth. It no longer exists and hasn't done for a long time. You can't save something that is already dead, and the mere existance of CDN's and their growing significance is all the proof you need of this.

If you agree with net neutrality you can't possibly agree with CDN's, but CDN's are one of the most important fundamental building blocks of the internet these days. Without them things would simply grind to a halt.

Domestic bandwidth is also a moot point here, it still costs big $ whereas Quickflix is carried by the Akamai CDN.

Comment by insane, on 3-Apr-2012 22:32

Just a comment on your point 1. National bandwidth isn't all equal. There is bandwidth between ISPs which peer openly with eachother at the various peering exchanges which doesn't cost too much, but then there is the cost of National transit to/from Telecom and Telstraclear which comes at a hefty price due to them both choosing to not peer with other ISPs. Granted it's more of a problem for hosting/content providers than for purly residential ISPs.

As for the rest of the article Sky is following the same methods used by the previous Labour government to pass so many laws. If you make small incramental changes they go unnoticed, but before long they all join up to bite you back, hard.

Author's note by foobar, on 4-Apr-2012 06:32

@Byron, @Ragnor: The linked article says that the deals are exclusive. As support it links to a further article, in which this is discussed. There, Quickflix claims that some of those deals are exclusive, while Sky responds as such:

"Sky TV chief executive John Fellet rejected Taylor's claims it had exclusive deals for zero-rating with ISPs, saying that agreements only required them to deliver Sky more favourable terms than given to competitors."

So... not exclusive? Just better conditions? I think that's pretty much the same in this context: Using your own market dominance to erect higher hurdles for potential competitors.

Author's note by foobar, on 4-Apr-2012 06:41

@sbiddle: I'm not sure how CDNs are a violation of net neutrality. In essence, you are purchasing optimal location hosting for your content. Everyone has always been able to do that.

Nobody denies the physics of the network: If you are closer to content, your packets have less hops to traverse, then you will be able to get to your content quicker.

If I create a web service for mostly European customers, I will find servers in Europe. If they are mostly in New Zealand, I will find servers here. And with a CDN I can find servers in all parts of the world.

What would be problematic is if ISPs employ other means than proximity to differentiate (and discriminate) content: Company A is charged more for the same service than company B, for example. A's traffic is filtered, slowed down, placed in a smaller QoS bucket, etc. than company B. Company A tries to get the same deal as company B, but is denied by the ISP (due to some exclusive contract), etc. The ISP establishes some policies, which make company B look more attractive to consumers than company A.

Comment by Gavino, on 4-Apr-2012 09:51

Regarding point 2: "Sky's deals with the ISPs are exclusive deals, meaning, these ISPs are now prevented from offering similar deals for other online streaming services. Thus, upstarts like Quickflix are essentially prevented from entering the market on an equal footing."

I'm with Orcon who unmeters iSky and QuickFlix (May 1).

Comment by Kiwipixter, on 4-Apr-2012 10:39

Agree with the comment that net neutrality is a myth, it never existed and will not exist in a commercial world which is what the Internet is now.

As for Sky's monopoly on content, its not all their fault. Most of the blame should lie on the content owners, e.g. HBO, who signed exclusive deals with Sky in the first place.

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New Zealand

  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
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