Media

Netflix-Verizon spat grabs the FCC's attention

FCC
Image Credit: FCC

The Federal Communications Commission wants to know who is really to blame for crappy connectivity some U.S. citizens are experiencing when they try to watch Netflix.

Netflix said it’s the ISPs fault, while ISPs claim Netflix is just trying to get out of paying money to deliver the service like it always has.

“Consumers pay their ISP and they pay content providers like Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon. Then when they don’t get good service they wonder what is going on,” wrote FCC chairman Tom Wheeler in a statement today. “I have experienced these problems myself and know how exasperating it can be.”

The FCC’s investigation was prompted by a very public fight between Netflix and Verizon. Last month Netflix started adding a new message within the video player whenever a piece of content would take a while to load. The message attributed the crappy Netflix service to a person’s ISP — simply saying that the ISP’s network was “congested.”

When Verizon became aware of these messages, it went into attack mode, sending a cease and desist letter to Netflix and publishing many strongly worded statements that basically called the streaming service a liar.

At issue are recent paid peering agreements Netflix forged with the intent of ensuring its subscriber would be able to reliably access the service with improved video quality. Netflix first made a peering agreement with Comcast, and later with Verizon — something the company views as unnecessary Internet tolls.

Wheeler said the commission has obtained the Netflix agreements with Verizon and Comcast and has requested others to aid in its investigation.

Wheeler went on to explain the commission’s actions, saying< “To be clear, what we are doing right now is collecting information, not regulating. We are looking under the hood. Consumers want transparency. They want answers. And so do I.”

The bottom line is that consumers need to understand what is occurring when the Internet service they’ve paid for does not adequately deliver the content they desire, especially when they’ve also paid for the content. In this instance, it is about what happens where the ISP connects to the Internet. It’s important that we know — and that consumers know.

It’ll be interesting to see what comes of this investigation, and how it goes on to shape the FCC’s new Open Internet rules, which call for an enforceable set of regulations that ISPs must follow when delivery traffic.