Apple has been toying with the idea of modernising the living room for the better part of a decade now, and it seems as if Cupertino is on the cusp of a breakthrough. Apple is reportedly in talks with Comcast to bring a modern video streaming service to its set-top boxes, and it doesn't want to compete with the congestion of the public Internet. If this deal progresses, we could even see Comcast and Apple sidestep net neutrality all together.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Apple and Comcast are currently working out the details that would enable a deeply intertwined business partnership. Supposedly, Apple wants to offer on-demand video and live broadcasts over IP without any of the buffering or dips in quality that services like Netflix and Amazon Prime are afflicted with. To execute on that vision, Cupertino wants to implement a dedicated service with America's largest cable provider, and bypass the Internet completely.
Fundamentally, this strategy treats the proposed streaming service more like a traditional cable set-up than a Netflix competitor. Sure, the data is being delivered in packets, but it just sounds like a modernised implementation of what already exists. The article makes it very clear that Apple "isn't asking for its traffic to be prioritised over other Internet-based services," so concerns over net neutrality become more complex. This isn't a direct attack on net neutrality, but it does blur the lines between content company and utility company.
At what point will this private video distribution be seen as anti-competitive? What safeguards will be put in place to prevent Apple and Comcast from eroding available bandwidth from Internet traffic to bolster their private services in the future? All of this is still up in the air, and these questions won't be answered any time soon. Over in the States, the FCC is slowly working towards implementing net neutrality regulations, but companies like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast are doing their damnedest to prevent progress.
I would love to see how an Apple-designed video streaming solution would work, but not at the expense of the Internet at large. Private IP networks could potentially be useful tools for content providers, but only if the Internet itself is protected. It'd be really nice if Mythbusters didn't need to buffer, but that's not worth eroding the public Internet. Even if this Apple-Comcast deal never happens, we need to remain on alert regarding this sort of move. The big ISPs have a history of bad behaviour, and that isn't going to change without severe regulatory pressure.