Netflix, Comcast, AT&T and the War Over ISP Fees

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The war has been raging over net neutrality since the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia struck down the FCC's network neutrality rules for cable service providers in January. One week later, Netflix (NFLX) issued a letter to its shareholders, explaining "In principle, a domestic ISP now can legally impede the video streams that members request from Netflix, degrading the experience we jointly provide."

It's hard to say how actual costs will be borne out. More than likely, it will be a mixture of increased costs to consumers and increased costs to streaming television subscribers to offset companies like Netflix paying a "toll" for uninterrupted streaming service. But there is additional cost here -- your portfolio.

Over the last month, shares in Netflix have plunged from a high of roughly $455 per share to around $337 at the close of trading Friday -- and that change is only going to increase as the battle over net neutrality continues. Share prices are less volatile in Comcast (CMCSA) and AT&T (T) -- Comcast went from a high of $52 to a low of $49 before ending around $50 Friday while AT&T gained, moving from $32 to $35 over the last four weeks -- but that doesn't mean it's over.

Both Netflix and AT&T are acknowledging that existing networks are at capacity. Netflix may be growing subscribers, reporting 44 million at the end of 2013 and expectations of 48 million by the end of first-quarter 2014, but then what? If Netflix subscribers start having to deal with buffering, how long will it be until they go back to cable? Or perhaps go into on demand cable services, like the sort rumored to be brewing between Comcast and Apple (AAPL)?

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