Netflix calls for ‘strong’ net neutrality as it’s forced to pay tolls

Netflix' Strong Net Neutrality Case

In an extensive post, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings called for “strong net neutrality,” as opposed to the “weak net neutrality” that currently exists, and which allows ISPs to theoretically – if not actually – bully Internet businesses into paying fees in order for consumers to be able to enjoy their services at better speeds.

“The essence of net neutrality is that ISPs such as AT&T and Comcast don’t restrict, influence or otherwise meddle with the choices consumers make,” Hastings said. “The traditional form of net neutrality which was recently overturned by a Verizon lawsuit is important, but insufficient. “

“Strong net neutrality additionally prevents ISPs from charging a toll for interconnection to services like Netflix, YouTube, or Skype, or intermediaries such as Cogent, Akamai or Level 3, to deliver the services and data requested by ISP residential subscribers,” Hastings wrote. “Instead, they must provide sufficient access to their network without charge.”

He admitted that Netflix will “reluctantly” pay for interconnection while this “weak net neutrality exists” but only to improve the experience of consumers interested in its services, not to downgrade the performance of other Internet resources.

Hastings highlighted Cablevision as a “strong net neutrality” company, asking that Comcast will do the same. “Comcast has been an industry leader in supporting weak net neutrality, and we hope they’ll support strong net neutrality as well,” the exec wrote, explaining that as soon as Netflix agreed to pay the toll, Comcast subscribers got a good Netflix streaming experience again rather than “high buffering rates, long wait times and poor video quality.”

“Once Netflix agrees to pay the ISP interconnection fees, however, sufficient capacity is made available and high quality service for consumers is restored. If this kind of leverage is effective against Netflix, which is pretty large, imagine the plight of smaller services today and in the future,” Hastings said. “Roughly the same arbitrary tax is demanded from the intermediaries such as Cogent and Level 3, who supply millions of websites with connectivity, leading to a poor consumer experience.”

The Netflix CEO asked ISPs to offer customers the data speeds they promise in their contracts no matter what online services consumers choose to, and reminded them that while they ask Internet companies to join in and share the costs, they aren’t inviting them to a share of the profits as well.

At the same time, Hastings took a hard stance against Verizon who once said that Netflix is “unilaterally ‘dumping as much volume’ as it wants onto their networks,” saying that it’s customers who “pay a lot of money for high speed Internet” that choose to actually download Netflix content.

“Interestingly, there is one special case where no-fee interconnection is embraced by the big ISPs — when they are connecting among themselves,” the exec said. “They argue this is because roughly the same amount of data comes and goes between their networks. But when we ask them if we too would qualify for no-fee interconnect if we changed our service to upload as much data as we download [in other words moving to peer-to-peer content delivery] – thus filling their upstream networks and nearly doubling our total traffic – there is an uncomfortable silence. That’s because the ISP argument isn’t sensible. Big ISPs aren’t paying money to services like online backup that generate more upstream than downstream traffic. Data direction, in other words, has nothing to do with costs.”

Meanwhile, Comcast already responded with a statement in response to Hastings’ strongly worded call to action for stronger net neutrality.

“There has been no company that has had a stronger commitment to openness of the Internet than Comcast. We supported the FCC’s Open Internet rules because they struck the appropriate balance between consumer protection and reasonable network management rights for ISPs. We are now the only ISP in the country that is bound by them, Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen said.

“The Open Internet rules never were designed to deal with peering and Internet interconnection, which have been an essential part of the growth of the Internet for two decades. Providers like Netflix have always paid for their interconnection to the Internet and have always had ample options to ensure that their customers receive an optimal performance through all ISPs at a fair price. We are happy that Comcast and Netflix were able to reach an amicable, market-based solution to our interconnection issues and believe that our agreement demonstrates the effectiveness of the market as a mechanism to deal with these matters.”

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