TKorean drama Squid Game’s resounding success prompted a local broadband provider to take legal action to force the manufacturer, Netflix, to help pay for the huge increase in traffic, the latest flashpoint in the argument Who should bear the brunt of the skyrocketing data costs fueled by the global streaming boom.
From the latest global Netflix thrills and Premier League football matches streamed live on Amazon Prime Video, to the bandwidth cut traffic when updating online games like Fortnite or Call of Duty, the demand for Internet capacity has experienced unprecedented growth in recent years.
The pandemic has reinforced this trend: The boredom of confinement and working from home helped fuel the busiest internet traffic days on record in UK history, as internet use doubled the rate of internet traffic. last year.
“Each terabyte of data consumed beyond current levels costs around £ 50million,” says Marc Allera, general manager of BT’s consumer division. “In the past year alone, we’ve seen four terabytes of additional usage and the cost to keep up with that growth is enormous. “
An overwhelming majority of daily usage, up to 80%, is accounted for by only a handful of companies like YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, and games company Activision Blizzard.
Allera says rules that prevent companies like BT from passing some of the costs on to key drivers of capacity growth – net neutrality rules that say all internet traffic is treated equally – are outdated. for the age of streaming.
“A lot of net neutrality principles are incredibly valuable, we are not trying to stop or marginalize players, but there has to be more effective coordination of demand than today,” he said. declared. “When the rules were created 25 years ago, I don’t think anyone would have imagined that four or five companies would generate 80% of the internet traffic in the world. They do not contribute to the services they provide; that doesn’t feel right.
Last month, UK telecommunications regulator Ofcom launched a review of net neutrality rules in light of the changing internet landscape, although any policy change ultimately rests with the government.
Supporters of Net Neutrality fear that any change in its fundamentals could lead Internet service providers to ultimately decide to block or restrict the speed of certain services, and speed up others that pay fees. , in turn affecting the consumer experience.
“We strongly believe in a free and open Internet,” says Jon Lloyd, campaign manager at the Mozilla Foundation. “All content must be treated in the same way, it is the principle of net neutrality. We’ve never asked content creators to pay ISPs before, and we shouldn’t be doing it now. The Open Rights Group argues that the UK’s falsification of net neutrality could open the door to the Internet potentially “divided into a fast lane and a slow lane.”
However, in the United States, Netflix and others have paid Internet Service Provider (ISP) fees for years to ensure faster streaming speeds, while Amazon and Facebook do in Korea. “We haven’t seen the feared widespread blockage or restriction of traffic,” said Matthew Howett, founder of telecommunications consultancy Assembly.
Streaming companies claim that they are, in effect, paying for their content to be delivered through technical systems that significantly reduce costs for Internet service providers. Netflix has a global network of its own servers that provide a Squid Game or Bridgerton equivalent of the Internet gateway for ISPs, shortening the distance that data travels to consumers, the pay-streaming giant. billions of “transit fees”. Disney has a different system, partnering with a tech company called Qwilt, although ISPs also charge a fee on its model.
“Lately, we see that governments and ISPs are increasingly looking to content providers for financial support, arguing that they should be paid a fee to support the deployment of broadband and 5G,” he said. said an executive in the streaming industry. “We believe this goes towards a violation of net neutrality principles, as consumers who purchase internet service from an ISP should be able to access any endpoint on the internet, whether that content provider pays or no.”
Telecom and broadband providers argue that measures taken during the pandemic have proven net neutrality needs to be revisited. Operators switched to ‘zero rate’ educational websites when schools were closed, meaning web users did not use data or incur charges to access it, giving BBC preferential access Bitesize and Oak National Academy compared to other learning services.
“There’s a period stress test going on,” Howett says. “The challenge is not new, it’s about increasing margins and profitability for investors and they see revenue opportunities from these big content providers.”
Beyond motivations, the rise in data consumption and the need to manage and pay for capacity are expected to continue at a breakneck pace. In 2011, the average household used 17 GB of data via the Internet each month, according to consultancy group Communications Chambers. Last year, that figure had reached 429 GB on average. In November, Disney said it expected the “dizzying” demand for video content to increase tenfold over the next two years.
“The only contribution made is that of consumers through what they pay or of us, the networks, does that seem fair? Said Allera. “There are other business models that would only require a few net neutrality changes. We’re only talking about the biggest players driving the greatest consumption of content and data; we need an evolution of principles.