New YouTube Message Fuels "ISP Blame Game"
Last week we reported how net neutrality issues could have a profound impact on both Internet marketing and the way users access specific websites. One issue that's brought net neutrality into the limelight involves streaming video services arguing that Internet service providers are responsible for lagging playback.
Last month, an ongoing battle between Netflix and Verizon resulted in the streaming service displaying a now-removed message on slow videos, stating "The Verizon network is crowded right now. Adjusting video for smoother playback." YouTube now shows a similar message.
YouTube Message is More Subtle
The YouTube message - rolled out on May 29 - doesn't exactly call out a specific ISP; instead, it displays a small blue bar at the bottom of a poorly-loading video that simply states "Experiencing Interruptions?" On the right side of the bar, a small button labeled "Find out why" will take the user to Google's Video Quality Report Page. This page provides statistics related to the streaming quality and video consumption provided by your ISP in your area and, perhaps more importantly, allows you to compare those stats to other ISPs. Basically, these charts allow you to see which service providers in your area can deliver HD YouTube feeds most often without buffering. My chart looks like this:
ISPs who have proven to Google that HD can be supported at least 90 percent of the time have been categorized as "YouTube HD Verified."
More ISP Competition is Good, Right?
Video services blaming ISPs for poor streaming has an important role in net neutrality because the resulting conflicts could lead to ISPs giving preferential treatment and increased bandwidth to large companies who can afford to pay for the privilege. This could be disastrous for startups, and it might also lead to an arguably dangerous level of control for ISPs.
On the other hand, YouTube's new approach seems to be encouraging users to select a different ISP if they're having streaming problems. This seems like a good, free-market approach to the solution, allowing "good" ISPs to flourish and potentially preventing monopolies. Unfortunately, this might not be a viable solution currently, as SoftBank CEO Mayoshi Son reported in March that a whopping 67 percent of American broadband users have two or less options when it comes to choosing a service provider.
In Their Defense...
It can be argued that companies like Netflix and YouTube need to do something to defend themselves if poor streaming really is the ISP's fault. Users are often quick to blame websites first when loading problems occur, which may lead to them using other services despite the poor performance actually being caused by the ISP. Seeing how these clashes are resolved will have huge effects on net neutrality, though, and Internet marketers must keep a close eye on how these issues play out.
Have an idea about how to solve these bandwidth issues without giving ISPs too much control and essentially ending the Open Internet? The FCC is still taking suggestions and comments here.