FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai turns the tables on Netflix, alleging that the online video provider was working to “effectively secure” Internet “fast lanes” for its content.
In written correspondence (here) Commissioner Pai states the following…
- Netflix has been one of the principal advocates for subjecting Internet service providers (ISPs) to public utility regulation under Title II of the Communications Act, arguing that this step is necessary to prevent the development of so-called “fast lanes” on the Internet. “The basic argument,” you have said, “is that we’re big believers in the free and open Internet.”
- For this reason, I was surprised to learn of allegations that Netflix has been working to effectively secure “fast lanes” for its own content on ISPs’ networks at the expense of its competitors.
The FCC commissioner asked Netflix to explain an apparent contradiction in its demand for net neutrality: on the one hand, Netflix wants an open and neutral internet for all – and on the other hand, it’s making deals with ISPs to speed up its video streams.
- The Netflix fast lanes Pai referred to seem to be the “Open Connect” video storage and caching boxes that Netflix provides to ISPs. Although Netflix doesn’t charge ISPs for this equipment, Netflix gets to reduce its costs if the ISPs host it within their own facilities. Despite the name “Open Connect,” the systems are proprietary, Pai noted. If Netflix were using a truly “open” system instead of a proprietary one, ISPs would be able to install open caching appliances that benefit all content providers, not just Netflix, Pai argued.
- Pai also says that Netflix’s refusal to use an open standard (streaming video alliance) might have something to do with its desire to get ISPs throughout the country to install Netflix’s own proprietary caching servers inside their networks at no charge. All major ISPs have refused this, except for Cablevision and Google Fiber. This has forced Netflix to strike interconnection deals with large ISPs to keep its video traffic flowing down to end users.
- The initiative, which Netflix calls Open Connect, amounts to the installation of Neflix’s private content delivery network (CDN). CDNs like Akamai and Edgecast install their own servers inside ISP networks, but they pay for the right to do so.
The streaming video alliance, which Netflix has refused to join describe themselves as a group of industry leaders who share a common vision for the future of online video, have joined together to form the Streaming Video Alliance, a new industry forum, whose mission is to foster deeper ecosystem collaboration, create an open architecture and promote best practices that will allow online video to flourish.
As has been noted on previous entries, Net Neutrality is far more complex and commercial than the “save the Internet” slogan would have you believe. Like many philosophical debates, the stance taken by the participants may very much be a result of what angle one views it from.