Netflix came out swinging in its submission to the FCC over proposed internet “fast lanes,” arguing Wednesday that this would be a bad idea and that the agency should instead focus on forcing broadband providers to deliver the speeds they promise to their customers.
In its 28-page filing, which coincides with the close of an initial public comment period, Netflix singled out Comcast and Verizon for degrading its movie streams to “nearly VHS quality” and for holding subscribers ransom in a battle over who should pay for upgrades to internet infrastructure.
While many companies — including Comcast — have said the FCC should preserve a “free and open internet,” Netflix’s submission is unusually blunt and specific about the measures to take. Notably, Netflix told the FCC that it should reclassify the internet providers as so-called “Title II” services, which would allow the agency to treat them more akin to public utilities and bar them from favoring one website over another.
The reclassification proposal has so far been a third rail in the debate over how the FCC should address “net neutrality” after its previous rules collapsed in court in January. Comcast and others bitterly oppose reclassification, arguing it will undermine their ability to innovate.
Netflix, however, makes the case that the FCC has no other choice, and points out that two previous attempts at regulating internet providers as “information services” failed due to a poor legal framework.
The company’s filing also highlights the recent controversy over “interconnection points” and who is to blame for congestion points at deeper reaches of the internet that caused Netflix traffic to degrade for Comcast and Verizon subscribers. According to Netflix, the cable giants deliberately failed to maintain these points, with the result that:
“Due to Comcast’s degrading its interconnection points, the first customer received less than 6% of the broadband service she had purchased from Comcast, while the second received only 1%.”
Netflix has been forced to pay tolls to Verizon and Comcast to ensure its traffic flows through, but argued that it shouldn’t have to do so. Instead, Netflix said, the ISPs should have to deliver the internet speeds they promised to consumers — regardless of which website they choose to watch:
It is called the Inter-net for a reason. That is, the Inter-net comprises interconnections between many autonomous networks, all sharing common protocols [...] online applications and services like Netflix are why consumers purchase broadband access services in the first place. If ISPs want online applications to share their costs, perhaps they should also be willing to share their revenues.
The company also took aim at the FCC’s “fast lane” proposal, arguing that it creates a perverse incentive for the ISPs to create congestion so that they can then turn around and demand money for traffic to pass through. Arguing that “no rule is better than a bad rule,” Netflix also claimed that the FCC’s suggestion that it would ban “commercially unreasonable” arrangements would prove unworkable in the real world.
Finally, Netflix also attempted to strike a personal chord with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. The company cited a highly-publicized sketch by comedian John Oliver that compares Wheeler to a “dingo,” and points to a report in which Wheeler’s wife discovers her video is stuttering and asks, “You’re chairman of the FCC, why is this happening?”
The filing also calls for more transparency for the ISP’s and a “rebuttable presumption” test in which they would have to deliver the speeds they promise. Here’s a copy with some of the key parts underlined: