Netflix partner accuses Comcast of unfair ‘toll’ for video streaming

Comcast LogoLevel 3 Communications, a company that Netflix has partnered with to deliver streaming movies and TV shows to customers, issued a press release yesterday accusing Comcast of unfairly imposing fees for the use of its network.

“Comcast is effectively putting up a toll booth at the borders of its broadband Internet access network, enabling it to unilaterally decide how much to charge for content which competes with its own cable TV and Xfinity delivered content,” said Thomas Stortz, chief legal officer of Level 3. “This action by Comcast threatens the open Internet and is a clear abuse of the dominant control that Comcast exerts in broadband access markets as the nation’s largest cable provider.” Netflix, which recently announced new subscription plans, wasn’t explicitly mentioned in Level 3’s statement.

Comcast responded accusing Level 3 of maintaining a “duplicitous” position and working to gain an unfair advantage over its competitors. “We are happy to maintain a balanced, no-cost traffic exchange with Level 3,” Comcast’s vice president Joe Waz said in a blog post. “However, when one provider exploits this type of relationship by pushing the burden of massive traffic growth onto the other provider and its customers, we believe this is not fair.”

Level 3 has stated that it agreed to pay Comcast “under protest” last week and noted that the fee is in violation of proposed rules set forth by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that guard against Internet providers favoring certain types of traffic on their networks. Comcast, for its part, says that it plans to meet with Level 3 executives later this week to try and come up with a solution.

This is not the first time Comcast has been accused of unfairly controlling traffic on its networks. In 2008, Comcast came under fire for filtering Internet traffic it found to be connected with BitTorrent file-sharing networks. The FCC eventually ordered Comcast to halt the practice.

The federal government is currently considering a deal that would see Comcast acquiring NBC Universal. It is thought that the government may require Comcast to agree to refrain from favoring any NBC content as a condition of the merger.

The FCC, which has been wrestling with courts and companies throughout the year over the concept of an open internet, may take action on net neutrality rules as early as next month.