Law Would Make It Illegal To For ISPs To Throttle Streaming Video

For years, there have been accusations of Internet service providers deliberately slowing down or degrading the quality of data from streaming video services. Recently, a company that provides a good deal of bandwidth to Netflix accused Verizon of allowing traffic to streaming video traffic to get snarled in bottlenecks. Newly introduced legislation would outlaw the practice of throttling and degrading video content.

Yesterday, West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller introduced S.1680, the “Consumer Choice in Online Video Act” [PDF] which amend the Communications Act of 1934 to deal with the numerous ways in which telecoms have tried slow down streaming video or make it expensive to consumers.

“Online video distribution has the potential to increase consumer choice in video programming, lower prices for video services, bring innovative services to the video distribution marketplace, and disrupt the traditional multichannel video distribution marketplace,” reads the bill.

The bill points out that the quality of service provided by ISPs is essential to the success of online video, and that ISPs that institute usage-based pricing tiers “can negatively impact the competitive position of online video distributors and the appeal of their services to consumers.”

Another problem is that many people get their Internet and cable TV from the same company, meaning it may be in the ISPs selfish interest to make streaming video look bad to consumers who may be tempted to cut the cord.

“Internet service providers that are affiliated with a multichannel video programming distributor or an online video distributor have an increased incentive to degrade the delivery of, or block entirely, traffic from the websites of other online video distributors, or speed up or favor access to the content and aggregation websites of their affiliates, because online video distributors pose a threat to those affiliates’ video programming distribution businesses,” reads the bill.

Thus, the act sets out to put an end to these practices by making them illegal, stating, “It shall be unlawful for a designated Internet service provider to engage in unfair methods of competition or unfair or deceptive acts or practices, the purpose or effect of which are to hinder significantly or to prevent an online video distributor from providing video programming to a consumer.”

As Ars Technica points out, this law would bolster the already existing FCC net neutrality guidelines, which Verizon is currently trying to tear to shreds in court.

In terms of usage-based pricing, the law proposes that data caps may not be used “in a way that deters competition from unaffiliated online video distributors that may be in competition with the Internet service provider’s or its affiliate’s services.” This would seem to be a direct response to companies like Comcast that have tried to argue that their own streaming services should not count against customers’ data caps while those from competitors like Netflix and Amazon would.

And you remember how in the middle of the Time Warner Cable blackout of CBS, the network decided to block streaming content on for all TWC customers, regardless of whether they had cable or not? This bill would outlaw that too.

“No video programming vendor that has made available its video programming to consumers online may restrict access to that online video programming for a subscriber of a multichannel video programming distributor or its affiliate, or an online video distributor or its affiliate, during the time that vendor is involved in a dispute with such distributor,” reads the legislation, which GovTrack currently gives an impressive 10% chance of being enacted.

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