Netflix and Comcast representatives continue to publicly trade barbs in a disingenuous tussle over net neutrality that pits business giants against each other, as both pose as friends to the little guy. Tom Wheeler, the head of the FCC, just announced the drafting of new net neutrality rules for public comment which will be available for review in May. The debate over the concept of net neutrality has heated up due to an appeals court decision in the Verizon case in January in which the non-discrimination rules applicable to broadband internet service providers were struck down. Both companies purport to be supportive of net neutrality, yet their talk rings hollow in comparison to their actions.
Netflix contends that Comcast extracted compensation from the content provider in a peering agreement Netflix found necessary in order to prevent degradation of service. Netflix Vice President Ken Florance states in his blog post that the peering agreement to provide content directly to the Comcast network was needed in response to limited bandwidth available from Comcast using normal third-party content delivery channels. In response, Comcast’s Senior Vice President Jennifer Khoury contends that the content delivery problems experienced by Netflix were self-caused and the necessity of a peering agreement was not based on any Comcast actions. These salvos are the latest barbs in the continuing public tussle between Netflix and Comcast.
Khoury states that the cable giant is a supporter of net neutrality and that the company is bound by the previous regulations based on an agreement with the regulators at the time of its acquisition of NBC Universal. Khoury reiterates that Netflix is expressing sour grapes over a peering partnership with the cable company that causes the content provider to pay for enhanced access. While expressing support for net neutrality, the cable giant has not joined consumer advocates or others in their efforts to enforce continued non-discrimination over the internet. Most advocates of true net neutrality wish to see the broadband cable providers classified by the FCC as telecommunications providers, which would specifically allow the agency to prohibit web traffic discrimination. Due to industry pressure, the FCC has been unwilling to regulate the broadband service providers as telecommunications providers, but instead classifies them under the 1996 Telecommunications Act as enhanced information services providers.
Netflix finds itself as a champion of net neutrality because its streaming content uses substantial bandwidth. The company tries to create the impression it is a content provider like millions of others. Their self-characterization of themselves on the internet food chain as just another content provider is somewhat similar to the fire department saying they consume water like everyone else. Well, they do use water just like those drinking from the tap, but they consume quite a bit more than the typical homeowner.
As the war of words heats up in the public tussle between uneasy partners Netflix and Comcast, the net neutrality regulatory effort will continue with both sides providing soothing words to a skeptical public as to the respective company’s support of a free and open internet. The real question is whether the actions taken by the companies will match their expressed support for a free and open internet. Netflix wants to unclog the internet pipes without paying a fee and Comcast desires to extract payment for enhanced service. Neither appears to be a true champion of net neutrality.
Opinion by William Costolo