There are many ways to measure how Netflix has matured in the past three years — but its relationship with net neutrality could be the most telling. In April 2014, the company revealed it was paying Comcast and Verizon to avoid throttling, which at the time CEO Reed Hastings described as “an arbitrary tax.” Later that year, Netflix submitted comments to the FCC in favor of net neutrality. This year, Netflix’s stance has been notably … nuanced.
Net neutrality refers to the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) and governments should treat all data the same. They should not be allowed to block, throttle, or charge based on user, content, website, platform, application, equipment type, or communication mode.
Last month, Hastings was asked how Netflix viewed net neutrality nowadays. “It’s not our primary battle at this point,” he said, adding that “we think net neutrality is incredibly important” and that it’s “not narrowly important to us because we’re big enough to get the deals we want.” This raised a few eyebrows.
This week, the company tweeted its support for net neutrality:
— Netflix US (@netflix) June 15, 2017
The first part of the tweet, “Netflix will never outgrow the fight for #NetNeutrality,” is a clear attempt to calm down those who saw the CEO’s statements as the company turning its back on the cause. Importantly, the tweet links to the Battle for the Net, a day-of-action campaign on July 12 to show the FCC that the internet does not want ISPs to be allowed to throttle, block, censor, and charge extra fees. Netflix is listed on the page, along with other tech companies like Amazon, Kickstarter, Vimeo, GitHub, Reddit, Y Combinator, Mozilla, and BitTorrent.
Actions speak louder than words, but Hastings was simply answering the question honestly, possibly in an attempt to soothe investor fears. Many see the above tweet as proof Netflix is flip-flopping. That’s nonsense. There’s no news here, aside from some standard marketing spin.
Hastings did say the company sees net neutrality as important. He also said that Netflix is big enough now that net neutrality isn’t critical to the company. Both of those statements were true in May and are still true in June. This tweet, and the bigger move of joining Battle for the Net, is perfectly in line with last month’s comments.
Notice that the tweet does not say net neutrality is suddenly Netflix’s most important issue again. It does not declare that Netflix will never be the same without net neutrality. It’s just a basic statement of support.
Netflix is making a very clear choice. The company is not going to stick its neck out in the battle for net neutrality, but it is going to make sure the record shows it tried.
The reality is most Netflix users have no idea what net neutrality is or why it matters. Nobody is going to ditch Netflix over the company’s stance on the issue.
And that’s really the story here: Nothing has really changed and consumers don’t care.
Netflix is bigger now, Netflix not supporting net neutrality would not kill Netflix, and Netflix still supports net neutrality.
ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.