FCC steps in to investigate Netflix/ISP squabbles

fcc finally delves into netflixisp squabble calls for peering documents thomas wheeler

The battle between Netflix and a handful of big name ISPs (Internet Service Providers) has raged on for quite some time now, but it appears that the Federal Communications Commission has finally agreed to step in – at least in an investigative capacity. In an official statement, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler today explained that the agency will be investigating the situation with the aim of protecting Internet consumers. 

“Consumers must get what they pay for,” Wheeler writes. “I have therefore directed the Commission staff to obtain the information we need … to understand whether consumers are being harmed.” Furthermore, Wheeler claims that, at his direction, “Commission staff has begun requesting information from ISPs and content providers. We have received the agreements between Comcast and Netflix and Verizon and Netflix. We are currently in the process of asking for others.”

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment in which this backyard brawl initiated, but it’s probably safe to say that sluggish Netflix streaming speeds were the spark that lit the fuse. 

At the very beginning of this year, Netflix’s monthly ISP Speed Index indicated an overall slowing of the service’s streaming speeds on several major ISPs. Then Netflix opened up a big ol’ can of worms when it paid off Comcast in an effort to resolve the speed issues. Soon after, Verizon and AT&T predictably followed suit with similar requests for cash in exchange for restored streaming speeds. In actuality, these deals haven’t done a whole lot for Netflix in the long term. Sure, Comcast rose in the ranks of the service’s Speed Index for two straight months after the cash deal, but has since lost footing. Verizon’s FiOS service has fared even worse since managing to coax cash from Netflix, dropping to number 10.

Netflix isn’t the only one pointing fingers, however. Comcast returned fire against Netflix’s poor viewability claims back in April, claiming it was “Netflix’s commercial transit decisions that created these issues.” 

The latest drama came when Netflix began calling out Verizon’s sluggish streaming on its trademark red buffering screen prompting a cease and desist order from Verizon. All of this bickering, sniping, and accusation-slinging has occurred against the unfavorable backdrop of Comcast and Time Warner’s upcoming wedding, which has instigated an entirely different beast of a controversy, though the two issues are certainly joined at the hip.

Wheeler has claimed that he and the Commission won’t be intervening simply to hand down a blanket ruling that will somehow solve everything in one fell swoop. “To be clear, what we are doing right now is collecting information, not regulating,” Wheeler notes in today’s statement. “We are looking under the hood. Consumers want transparency. They want answers. And so do I.”