You Can Now Thank (or Blame) Netflix for Net Neutrality
This essay originally appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Sign up here.
June 14, 2016, will go down in history as either a victorious or disastrous day for the free and open Internet.
In a nutshell, it is the day a Washington, D.C., appeals court upheld the so-called “net neutrality” rules, passed by the Federal Communications Commission in 2015. The mandate, which imposes utility-like regulations on broadband services, was challenged by Internet providers that claimed the rules exceed the agency’s power (not to mention were an unnecessary burden and could, in fact, lead to increased costs for consumers). The court disagreed, announcing Tuesday morning that it would uphold the new net neutrality laws.
It’s a big win for companies like Netflix (NFLX)—or, well, especially for Netflix. The streaming media service has had tremendous impact on Hollywood in recent years, and while its influence on the rules that govern the Internet is less visible, it is even more consequential.
More than one-third of today’s Internet bandwidth is already consumed by Netflix. As a result the company has a lot at stake when it comes to an unfettered Internet—one that can’t be channeled into separate slow and fast lanes. Netflix has poured millions of dollars into lobbying efforts, both to squelch Comcast’s (CMCSA) bid for Time Warner Cable (which was successful) and to spearhead the charge for net neutrality (also successful). Both of these efforts, and its more recent involvement as a “public advocate” in Charter Communications’ merger with Time Warner Cable, have been led by Christopher Libertelli, its VP of global public policy and a former FCC adviser.
In a recent interview with Fortune (which took place last month, before the June 14 decision), Netflix CEO Reed Hastings talked about his company’s role in the net neutrality debate, calling the original FCC decision a success. “That’s a big win for the consumers, and is what we think how the Internet should be laid out,” he said. “And I think people on the ISP [Internet service provider] side are grudgingly coming around to that view.”
The thing is, most ISPs aren’t coming around. In a statement issued Tuesday, AT&T’s general counsel had this to say about the appeals court’s decision: “We have always expected this issue to be decided by the Supreme Court, and we look forward to participating in that appeal.”
Maybe June 14 won’t be that historic after all.