In the net neutrality hysteria that’s been going on for the past few weeks as the Federal Communications Commission, prepared to vote on broadband reclassification, one of the most horrifying of tales was that an ISP might block sites it doesn’t want you to see. Such things were a threat to freedom, advocates said.
What those advocates didn’t mention, either because they didn’t notice, or because it didn’t fit into their part of the hysteria, is that such blocking has been going on for a long time—years in some cases.
The blocking was carried out by three of the biggest sites on the internet which have been in a snit about how they divide up money earned from sales of various products on their websites, retail apps or via search engines.
Apple was annoyed with Amazon, because Amazon didn’t want to give Apple a cut from books sold through the Amazon mobile retail app on Apple devices. This was because Apple also sells books through its iBooks app. For some reason, this also translated into Apple refusing to allow Amazon Prime Video on Apple TV. Amazon, for its part, refused to sell Apple TV, because it competed with its Fire TV.
Meanwhile, Amazon and Google were having a similar snit. Amazon was refusing to sell Google’s Chromecast device because it competed with Fire TV. Because of this, Google prevented Amazon’s Echo Show devices from accessing YouTube on the web and served notice that it was going to block Fire TV devices from YouTube access starting in January. Amazon criticized Google for blocking access to a public website.
While Amazon and Google have settled their differences over Chromecast, Amazon still is still not selling Google Home, which is a direct competitor to Amazon’s Echo.
On the other hand, Amazon and Apple say they have made peace, but Amazon still doesn’t sell Apple TV despite announcements that the product would soon be sale on the Amazon retail website.
While it’s possible that the holiday rush has stripped Amazon’s virtual shelves of Apple TVs, I suspect it really means that Amazon simply isn’t selling them. On the other hand, it may be that Amazon is waiting until Apple puts the Prime Video app on Apple TV. However, Prime Video is available for iOS now, so perhaps there’s some other reason.
But there’s really a larger question here. Should the net neutrality provisions (whatever they are finally determined to be) apply to the big internet retailers? After all, for many, those big retailers have become a sort of shopping utility.
Should they be allowed to refuse to carry certain items simply because they compete with in-house products? Can blocking certain competitors' video devices from access to a video website that is otherwise available to all be regarded as conforming to the letter or even the spirit of network neutrality?