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December 3, 2014

FCC Accuses Netflix of Seeking ‘Fast Lane’ for its Content

Commissioner Ajit Pai Has Given CEO Reed Hastings Two Weeks to Respond

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The FCC is accusing Netflix of publicly supporting Net neutrality while quietly seeking a way to obtain a fast lane for its own content.

Commissioner Ajit Pai, in a letter to CEO Reed Hastings, accused Netflix of “working to effectively secure fast lanes for its open content on ISPs’ networks at the expense of its competitors.”

The letter is bound to be an embarrassment to Hastings considering that he has been so vocal in his opposition of fast lanes. In March he wrote a blog post outlining his take on the issue.

“The essence of Net neutrality is that ISPs such as AT&T and Comcast don’t restrict, influence or otherwise meddle with the choices consumers make,” he wrote. “This weak net neutrality isn’t enough to protect an open, competitive Internet; a stronger form of net neutrality is required. Strong net neutrality additionally prevents ISPs from charging a toll for interconnection to services like Netflix, YouTube, or Skype, or intermediaries such as Cogent, Akamai or Level 3, to deliver the services and data requested by ISP residential subscribers. Instead, they must provide sufficient access to their network without charge.”

Netflix is also part of The Internet Association ­— a group of 36 companies which includes Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Amazon, eBay, PayPal, LinkedIn and Twitter — that has spoken out against allowing broadband providers to offer “commercially reasonable” traffic management.

Pai took Hastings to task for Netflix’s lack of participation in efforts to develop open standards for streaming video.

The following is an excerpt from his letter:

Recent press articles report that Netflix, our nation’s largest streaming video provider, has chosen not to participate in efforts to develop open standards for streaming video. Moreover, I understand that Netflix has taken — or at least tested — measures that undermine aspects of open standards for streaming video.

Specifically, I understand that Netflix has at times changed its streaming protocols where open caching is used, which impedes open caching software from correctly identifying caching Netflix traffic. Because Netflix traffic constitutes such a substantial percentage of streaming video traffic, measures like this threaten the viability of open standards. In other words, if standards collectively agreed upon by much of the industry cannot identify and correctly route Netflix traffic, those standards ultimately are unlikely to be of much benefit to digital video consumers.

Some have suggested that Netflix has taken these actions because the company is currently installing its own proprietary caching appliances throughout ISPs’ networks as part of its Open Connect program. If ISPs were to install open caching appliances throughout their networks, all video content providers — including Netflix — could compete on a level playing field. If, however, ISPs were to install Netflix’s proprietary caching appliance instead, Netflix’s videos would run the equivalent of a 100-yard dash while its competitors’ videos would have to run a marathon.

Pai has given Hastings until Dec. 16 to respond.

It could be that there is a perfectly logical reason why Netflix has abstained from the efforts to develop open standards for streaming video — but so far the company and its CEO isn’t talking. It will be interesting to hear what Hastings has to say in response to Pai’s letter.


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Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.

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