The term “robber baron” was coined to describe medieval German nobles who extracted tolls, tariffs, and tithes from passing traffic on the river Rhine. You can still see their castles, built close to the banks, looming over the river. It was later used to describe rapacious industrialists who lined their pockets without adding much value to the detriment of the common good. We have them today, too.
It’s being reported that Netflix has agreed to pay Comcast for access to its network:
Netflix Inc. has agreed to pay Comcast Corp. to ensure Netflix movies and television shows stream smoothly to Comcast customers, a landmark pact that could set a precedent for Netflix’s dealings with other broadband providers, people familiar with the matter said.
In exchange for payment, Netflix will get direct access to Comcast’s broadband network.
The deal comes just 10 days after Comcast agreed to buy Time Warner Cable Inc. The acquisition, if approved, would establish Comcast as by far the dominant provider of broadband in the U.S., serving 32 million households before any divestitures it might make. It also comes amid growing signs that congestion deep in the Internet is causing interruptions for customers trying to stream Netflix movies and TV shows.
or, said another way, the robber baron is now extracting tolls from passing traders. That’s certainly a better outcome than Comcast’s just silently strangling Netflix and, until and unless Congress acts to counteract the Court’s recent rulings or the FCC figures out a way to re-write its regulations to fit within its Congressionally-delegated powers it’s probably the wave of the future.
Comcast didn’t develop the Internet and if it had tried on its own it would have flopped, as so many proprietary networks did. It doesn’t own the Internet but it’s profiting mightily from it. Its power should be limited to the “last mile” and all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally, consistent with the law of common carriers.