Last month Netflix decided it would pay off huge internet service providers like Comcast to make its service better for customers, but it's clear that the popular streaming company doesn't want to be forced to cut similar deals in the future. In a measured and strongly worded article issued today, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says that "net neutrality must be defended and strengthened," calling out giants like Comcast and Verizon for bad behavior.
"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," Hastings writes. "The traditional form of net neutrality which was recently overturned by a Verizon lawsuit is important, but insufficient. This weak net neutrality isn't enough to protect an open, competitive internet; a stronger form of net neutrality is required."
"Comcast has been an industry leader in supporting weak net neutrality"
This is Netflix's first big statement on net neutrality following a January 14th ruling which effectively crippled the FCC's existing net neutrality rules. Since then, major ISPs have insisted that they will uphold the spirit of net neutrality, but their behavior has largely suggested otherwise. The dispute that has emerged with Netflix revolves around "peering" agreements between internet service providers and the service providers on the edge of the consumer market that connect the country's networks together. Comcast has long scored towards the bottom of Netflix's monthly ISP rankings, which show how well Netflix performs around the world.
"Big ISPs are willing to sacrifice the interests of their own customers"
Hastings lays out the basic principles of net neutrality in the post, describing the various networks that cooperate to deliver customers with Netflix service. While Netflix decided to pay up when Comcast asked for rent, the company is now crying foul; "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," Hastings writes. "Comcast has been an industry leader in supporting weak net neutrality, and we hope they'll support strong net neutrality as well."
In a statement emailed to The Verge, Comcast executive VP David Cohen disputed Hastings' remarks, saying that "there has been no company that has had a stronger commitment to the openness of the internet than Comcast." Cohen argues that the FCC's open internet rules "were never designed to deal with peering and internet interconnection," and that "providers like Netflix have always paid for their interconnection to the internet." Cohen points out that Comcast is "now the only ISP in the country" that is bound by open internet rules. (Of course, that was an involuntary requirement imposed on Comcast when it absorbed NBC Universal and created a massive media vertical that put it in an unprecedented position to unfairly harm competitors.)
Netflix warned in January after the FCC's net neutrality rules were struck down that it would vocally resist the actions of ISPs if it were forced to pay them to avoid service degradation. While the company already caved in paying Comcast, it appears to now be fulfilling its warning. "Were this draconian scenario to unfold with some ISP," Netflix wrote in January, "we would vigorously protest and encourage our members to demand the open internet they are paying their ISP to deliver."
"Some big ISPs are extracting a toll because they can — they effectively control access to millions of consumers and are willing to sacrifice the interests of their own customers to press Netflix and others to pay," Hastings writes in today's post. "While in the short term Netflix will in cases reluctantly pay large ISPs to ensure a high quality member experience, we will continue to fight for the internet the world needs and deserves."