Net Neutrality Under Attack in Australia (Netflix Tax)

It’s time for Australia to gear up for its own fight for internet neutrality. Australia has a highly competitive market in terms of internet service providers (150+ outlets), but NBN Co’s wholesale monopoly allows for the framework to design a scheme that differentiates between video traffic and other kinds of data. Working together with internet service providers, this would likely result in having to pay a premium to watch sites like Netflix, Stan and other streaming services.

I am ready to admit I am behind the eight-ball on this one. I have been making the move to Canada for a while and have taken a long time (two weeks) to finally shake off the jet lag and try and do some work. But this news is alarming and somehow completely absent from the national mainstream media dialogue.

NBN Co is making an assault on the average Australian’s ability to access and enjoy the internet. The monopolistic company has invited 50 of Australia’s RSPs (retail service providers) to a wholesale pricing review. This is claimed at reducing prices for customers through bundling and other options, though a very obvious extra charge was also proposed by NBN Co.

The wholesaler asked RSPs:

Would your organisation support the development of a price response whereby charging of streaming video could be differentiated from the charging of other traffic/services? Would your organisation be likely to productise such a mechanism if developed by NBN?”

This translates to ‘would you like to develop a means to identify video traffic streaming so that you can charge customers more for it?’.

While NBN Co maintains that the questions delivered in the review were aimed at making prices more affordable for customers, it’s hard to see how this particular question could do anything but result in an extra levy for people who want to enjoy video streaming services.

The increase in price simply to enjoy entertainment through their streaming devices may be enough to price people out of the online steaming market and force them to seek other alternatives.

Let’s not forget that the NBN network as an infrastructure project was used by the Liberal Party as a means to satisfy their principal donor, Rupert Murdoch, by gutting the project from the get-go. What started as a project that would make Australia’s internet speeds competitive with the rest of the developed world (something that has been show to correlate with positive GDP growth) ended as a project that cemented Australia as an internet backwater, lagging behind developing economies.

We are currently sitting around 60th in the world for internet speeds. And while internet speeds might be increasing, they are going backward relative to the rest of the world. By next year we could fall as low as 100th place.

The gutting of the NBN didn’t even provide the service quicker, more reliably or more affordably than Labor’s initial national network.

There were few people who stood to benefit from the gutting of a comprehensive national broadband network, but one of those is none other than our own grumbling miser, Rupert Murdoch. By ensuring that the NBN was going to only provide a fraction of the service that it could have and would do so over an equal or longer time, Murdoch could hope to hold onto or even grow the population subscribing to his inferior Foxtel service.

The Liberal Party pays constant homage to their lord and master.

Now it appears that there would be more than just Murdoch who would benefit from the devising of a two-tiered internet scheme (NBN Co would stand to benefit along with the RSPs, depending on how it were managed), but Murdoch could also be a benefactor, as the increase in prices could result in users choosing simpler, cheaper internet packages along with Foxtel for entertainment.

At this point, it appears that RSPs are not wholly in support of an NBN-wide monitoring system, as this could create headaches for both the service provider and their customers. RSPs would prefer the system remain as it is, with providers able to choose for themselves whether they will privilege a type of data.

If this is allowed to go through, NBN Co could also expand its monitoring of data to other types, forcing users to pay more depending on their class of usage of the internet.

Much of this has been taking place confidentially, which is particularly egregious given that the NBN is a public network that has been paid for by public funds.

Video streaming is an integral and normal part of modern internet usage. Pages have videos embedded in them, families and friends can hold face-to-face conversations from across the world and businesses can conference without needed to send representatives across the world.

To monetise this service would be to handicap Australia and Australians.

It wasn’t long ago that Optus and Telstra tried to prioritise certain types of data (video streaming and peer-to-peer respectively), and there was large public outcry. With RSPs and Aussies against this type of arrangement, it seems the only reason to pursue it would be to recoup some of the massive cost overruns that have gone into installing the (still unfinished) network that will be outdated before its complete.

By Nathan Booth

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