Speaking with Recode’s Peter Kafka at the Code Conference today, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings explained his position on the current net neutrality debate that’s happening at the FCC. Or, more to the point, he addressed the fact that he’s been awfully quiet about it compared to how loudly he defended net neutrality in previous fights.
“It’s not narrowly important to us because we’re big enough to get the deals we want,” Hastings said. It was a candid admission: no matter what the FCC decides to do with Title II, Netflix isn’t worried about its ability to survive. Hastings says that Netflix is “weighing in against” changing the current rules, but that “it’s not our primary battle at this point” and “we don’t have a special vulnerability to it.”
He does believe that smaller players are going to be harmed if net neutrality goes away, saying that “where net neutrality is really important is the Netflix of 10 years ago.”
Perhaps another reason Netflix is being a little quieter about fighting to keep current net neutrality rules is that Hastings knows it’s already a lost cause. His best guess at what will happen is exactly what FCC chair Ajit Pai has been hinting at: “It might be that ISPs just accept the principles [of net neutrality] and it’s not enshrined formally,” he said. “I think the FCC is going to unwind Title II,” he added later. And he believes that it’s in the ISPs’ “long term interest” to respect net neutrality principles, so maybe they’ll just do it on their own.
He said all that with a kind of a shrug, though.
“The Trump FCC is going to unwind the rules no matter what anybody says,” Hastings argues. He might believe that net neutrality is “important for society,” but his company, Netflix, isn’t in trouble so it’s not going to get into the fight. “We had to carry the water when we were growing up and we were small,” Hastings said. “Other companies have to be on that leading edge.”
You can’t blame a company for paying attention to its existential problems — for Netflix it’s growing globally. But if you were hoping that it would be a warrior for net neutrality now just because it was then... stop doing that.