Letter Suggests Netflix Playing Both Sides on Net Neutrality
Earlier this week, Federal Communications Commissioner Ajit Pai sent a letter to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings asking for clarification of the company's stance on Net neutrality. Citing concerns that Netflix's development of proprietary technology for online caching "raise an apparent conflict with Netflix's advocacy for strong net neutrality regulations," Pai asked for Hastings to respond to the letter by Dec. 16.
The FCC is weighing proposed rule changes on Net neutrality that could open the door to Internet "fast lanes" for those willing to pay for priority service. Opponents say such a change could lead to a two-tiered Internet in which ordinary users would be left with slower connection speeds.
Netflix has been among the organizations speaking out in favor of an open Internet, noting in a letter to the FCC this past summer that "strong net neutrality is the best way to support the virtuous circle of increasing investment in broadband networks and the applications that drive the demand for faster, more affordable Internet access." However, Pai's letter to Hasting this week cited "allegations that Netflix has been working to effectively secure 'fast lanes' for its own content on ISPs' networks at the expense of its competitors."
Marathon or 100-Yard Dash?
In his letter, Pai notes that "Netflix has at times changed its streaming protocols where open caching is used, which impedes open caching software from correctly identifying and caching Netflix traffic." He adds that if "ISPs were to install Netflix's proprietary caching appliance...Netflix's videos would run the equivalent of a 100-yard dash while its competitors' videos would have to run a marathon."
Pai, one of two Republicans in the five-member FCC, also questioned why Netflix "has chosen not to participate in efforts to develop open standards for streaming video." That comment is apparently in reference to the Streaming Video Alliance, an industry organization launched in November to "facilitate the creation of architecture, standards and best practices that will scale the infrastructure for online video and improve efficiency for all providers in the ecosystem while preserving a high quality experience for consumers."
Founding members of the alliance include Cisco, Level 3 Communications, Yahoo! and Comcast, one of the two largest cable companies in the U.S. Comcast, which is also seeking FCC approval for a merger with Time Warner Cable, has not only advocated for changes to current Net neutrality rules but earlier this year pushed for a deal in which Netflix agreed to pay extra to ensure faster speeds on Comcast's network.
'Dots Don't Connect'
During its current consideration of proposed rule changes on Net neutrality, the FCC has received more than 4 million public comments on the issue, with a large proportion of those expressing support for the Title II reclassification that would give the FCC teeth to enforce Net neutrality.
In a Wednesday column in Forbes, columnist Tony Bradley criticized Pai's letter to Netflix: "The dots Pai is trying to connect don't go together. What Netflix is trying to accomplish -- developing a unique streaming technology that enables it to deliver superior performance than its competitors -- doesn't conflict with Net neutrality. It requires it."
Fight for the Future, one organization that has been vocal in its support for Net neutrality, announced earlier this week that -- "in the spirit of the holidays" -- it would be giving the FCC a one-week break from the thousands of phone calls it has been directing to the agency.
We reached out to Netflix for a reaction to Pai's letter and were told by a spokesperson that the company had no comment. She added that Netflix is not a member of the new Streaming Video Alliance. A spokesperson for the alliance said Netflix had been invited to join.