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Netflix makes last plea to FCC for Net Neutrality, calls out Comcast and Verizon

Protesters hold a rally in front of the FCC headquarters in Washington D.C. on May 15th.
As the public comment period comes to an end over the FCC’s controversial plan to allow for so-called Internet “fast lanes,” Netflix released a scathing 28-page document denouncing the proposal. The submission is perhaps Netflix’s most fervent argument against the FCC’s new proposal yet, saying the “Internet is at a crossroads” and that the new rules would create an Internet “characterized by legalized discrimination” and “gamesmanship.” Netflix also calls out both Comcast and Verizon specifically, blaming them for slowing its streams.

The FCC’s proposed plan would allow Internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon to charge some companies for access to faster connections. It has spurred opposition from a wide array of companies and advocates of a free and open Internet, from major corporations like Netflix and Google, to consumer advocates, and throngs of individual users. The opponents fear the “fast lane” proposal’s pay-for-priority system unfairly favors the rich and powerful, and could lead to the end of the Internet in its current form.

Netflix outlined those fears in its submission, and took things even further, raising concerns that the system would create a motive for ISPs to halt infrastructure in order to extort payment from those who want to reach their subscribers, like mafiosos.

“Allowing ISPs to monetize congestion will likely create more congestion, threatening the current model that has made the Internet so successful,” the submission states.

“Furthermore, pay-for-priority arrangements undermine an ISP’s incentive to continue building capacity into its network. Prioritization has value only in a congested network. After all, there can be no “prioritization” in an uncongested, best-efforts network; all (data) packets necessarily move at the same speed. As the Commission has acknowledged, this creates a perverse incentive for ISPs to forego network upgrades in order to give prioritization value.”

Throughout the submission, Netflix continued its condemnation of both Verizon and Comcast, two ISP rivals it has engaged in several public spats with. The report again puts the blame on the massive communications giants for slowing its video packets at the so-called “last mile,” or the point at which network backbones branch off to subscriber homes.

“Discrimination and unfair access charges at interconnection points are not theoretical,” the report reads. “As the Commission is aware, Netflix and its members have been impacted by interconnection congestion, particularly on Comcast’s and Verizon’s networks.” The submission shows data which implicates Comcast for degrading Netflix video to “nearly VHS level,” and claims Verizon’s failure to upgrade its networks is responsible for causing Netflix data to enter the network at a “drip-like pace.”

Netflix has entered into agreements with both Comcast and Verizon to pay the providers for a more direct connection to their subscribers. The most recent back and forth debate between Netflix and Verizon had both companies pointing the finger at each other for the snail’s pace at which Netflix video is transferred on Verizon’s FiOS service. Apart from its call for Net Neutrality, Netflix used the FCC submission to get in more jabs at Verizon for the issues.

“There can be no doubt that Verizon owns and controls the interconnections that mediate how fast Netflix servers respond to a Verizon Internet access consumer’s request,” the submission states.

Whether or not Netflix is as altruistic as it appears to be is also up for debate, however. While it has been a major proponent for keeping the Internet fair and open for all, it also has used the debate to attack its ISP foes at every turn, mixing the issue of Internet fast lanes, with the argument over who is to blame for its own slowing streaming speeds at the last mile.

While Netflix claims it holds no responsibility for the issues, a recent report from Light Reading points out that it is likely that the company could increase streaming speeds by purchasing more transit from its third-party delivery system to help alleviate the issue. Instead, Netflix prefers to push its Open Connect system, which is designed to connect its servers directly to Internet service providers. Verizon and Comcast have both refused to use Open Connect, while ISPs that have adopted it, like Cablevision, rank at the top of Netflix’s Speed Index reports.

While there may be plenty of blame to go around for Netflix’s streaming woes, there is no doubt that the FCC’s proposals for Internet fast lanes could have a major impact on the Web as we know it. As the period for open debate comes to a close this Friday, those who fear the end of the current system have raised their voices. According to The Verge, the FCC has already received more than 780,000 comments since it opened the public debate — and the door is still open.

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Ryan Waniata
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Ryan Waniata is a multi-year veteran of the digital media industry, a lover of all things tech, audio, and TV, and a…
FCC steps in to investigate Netflix/ISP squabbles
net neutrality timeline fcc tom wheeler 2

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."

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Netflix calls Verizon out on the big red screen [Update: Netflix backs off]
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You know things are bad when relations are reduced to corporate tattletaling. But when it comes to pointing the finger at who's responsible for its customers' bad streaming video experience, Netflix is apparently willing to aim at its contentious partner, Verizon. Recently, we learned that Verizon internet customers suffering from buffering have begun seeing the message “ The Verizon network is crowded right now” complete with a scary exclamation point, courtesy of Netflix. A screenshot of the message was tweeted by Yuri Victor, and later confirmed via tweet by Netflix spokesman, Jonathan Friedland.
The tweets started a buzz online concerning Netflix's brazen condemnation, growing loud enough to prompt a heated public spat between the two companies. The altercation resulted in a cease and desist order from Verizon on Thursday June 5th, and a blog post from Netflix four days later, ambiguously implying that the messages to Verizon customers would end on June 16th. But the debate appears far from over. Read below to follow the full timeline so far.
Verizon strikes back
Verizon's quick-fire response to Netflix's tatteltale messages started by denouncing them as a PR stunt. According to a report by Gizmodo, Verizon spokesperson Bob Elek posted this message in response: “This is a PR stunt. We’re investigating this claim but it seems misleading and could confuse people.” But that was just the start of the back and forth between the two adversaries.

The next day, Verizon raised the heat, ushering a cease and desist order from the company's general counsel, Randall S. Milch, that in no small terms, ordered Netflix to stop displaying its messages.

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Google’s stance on Net neutrality is good for you, and very good for Google

When it comes to the heated debate over Net neutrality, Google is putting on the white hat, and painting itself as the hero of the story. The company recently released a blog post regarding the expansion of its lightning-fast Google Fiber service, implicitly promising that the service will be the champion of streaming services like Netflix. So who’s the subtly implied villain in the tale? Comcast, of course, the company currently under fire for its ‘pay-for-speed' deal with Netflix, among other things.
The story, as you might expect, is much more complicated than all that. But the basic gist of Google’s message is the promise that its new Fiber service, which will directly compete with Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon, will not charge content providers “like YouTube, Netflix, and Akamai” for partnerships in order to give those companies speedier, more direct links into your home. Instead, it will offer those partnerships completely free of charge.
Internet service providers, the ones that show up on your monthly bill, generally don’t have a lot to do with the vast majority of the long journey your video packets make from servers, such as those in Netflix’s own facilities, across the thousands of miles of plains, mountains, and valleys to end up at your TV. Those providers mostly deal with what’s called the ‘last mile’, or the direct link from the Web’s pipelines into those connected to your home.
Google has promised to freely offer high-bandwidth content providers like Netflix direct links to its Fiber service’s last mile, as well as to ‘colocate’ Netflix’s own servers inside Fiber facilities, saving a lot of miles for all those broken up video packets to travel, and assuring faster connection and better quality streaming for you. If that sounds familiar, its because it’s virtually exactly what Comcast, as well as Verizon, offered Netflix through their highly controversial paid agreements, which Netflix agreed to, and later denounced as unfair and an affront to a fair and equal Internet for all.
Comcast has been under more pressure for its paid prioritization deal with Netflix than Verizon, not only because the company is the owner of a heap of media services, including a little broadcast company and content provider called NBCUniversal, but also because it is looking to merge with Time Warner Cable to become an even more powerful colossus. To make things worse, Comcast and other large ISPs like Verizon and AT&T have also been accused of purposely throttling video streams from Netflix and others, in order to gain leverage to push through such pay-for-speed deals.
The public spat between Netflix and Comcast has pushed the entire idea of paid priority for content providers with deep pockets into the spotlight, leading to a boiling point as the FCC, and its chairman Tom Wheeler, recently hashed out new FCC regulations which left those deals open. Consumer advocates and large tech firms like Google and Amazon have spoken out publicly against the new regulations as too lenient, claiming they will stifle innovation and lead to unfair advantages for companies already established.
Thanks to all that attention, with Fiber, Google is able do a lot of things that may be good for innovation online, but are also very good for Google. The company calls its way of doing business online “win-win-win.’ In its post, Google claims that creating free connection deals with companies like Netflix and others is good for those content providers because they can deliver high quality HD streams, and move into the 4K streaming future - which, at Google Fiber speeds will be much more plausible. It's also good for consumers who get better speeds without fear of their monthly bills rising. And, of course, it’s good for Google, because as the company put it, “it saves us money (it’s easier to transport video traffic from a local server than it is to transport it thousands of miles)."
We’d argue that there are a few more ‘wins’ to add to Google’s column under its vision for the future of the Internet. Not only does the company look good, (it’s already perennially in the top 5 of the Harris Poll) but it also stands to steal a whole lot of Comcast customers if and when it moves into those markets. It also has an interest in FCC regulations against paid priority because, as noted ISP expert Ray Burns points out in a blog post, Google, and a lot of other companies, already pay ISPs for transit themselves. It’s kind of how the Internet works, and has been for a long time. In fact, Burns’ Streaming Media blog shows a list of some of the nation's top companies, and which big ISPs they pay for higher speed prioritization, outlined below.


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