FCC to Netflix: Creating 'Fast Lanes' Doesn't Support Net Neutrality
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Ajit Pai called out Netflix, one of net neutrality's most well known advocates, in a letter to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings Tuesday, saying that the video streaming service provider was in fact trying to set up its own "fast lanes" on the Internet.
The commissioner's letter comes at a crucial time when the FCC is in the midst of laying down lays concerning net neutrality -- the concept that all content on the Internet is free, and that Internet service providers (ISPs) should not give one website more bandwidth than others.
"... 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."
Pai, in particular, seem concerned about a Netflix program known as Open Connect. While Netflix does support net neutrality, as CEO Reed Hastings explained in a blog post earlier this year, it also is on a mission to provide content to its consumers at a high quality. In order to promote better service, Netflix is urging ISPs to allow them to store video content on their servers for faster access. The idea could work -- if it applied to every video streaming service.
"If ISPs were to install open caching appliances throughout their networks, all video content providers -- including Netflix -- could compete on a level playing field," writes Pai. "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."
It's important to remember that while Netflix does support net neutrality, it does differentiate between weak and strong net neutrality, and that, in the end, it is more concerned about keeping its service quality high. Netflix has already begun paying providers like Comcast a special fee for interconnections with their network to provide extra bandwidth support for its streams.
"Netflix believes strong net neutrality is critical, but in the near term we will in cases pay the toll to the powerful ISPs to protect our consumer experience. When we do so, we don't pay for priority access against competitors, just for interconnection. A few weeks ago, we agreed to pay Comcast and our members are now getting a good experience again," Hastings said in March.
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