Netflix to FCC: Interconnection matters. Just ask John Oliver

The US' top source of Internet traffic, Netflix beats the Net neutrality drum in a new filing to FCC, with a nod to HBO's viral comedy-show clip.

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John Oliver has a point to make on Net neutrality, and has a fan in Netflix. Screenshot by Joan E. Solsman/CNET

Netflix has argued for months that strong Net neutrality means letting it connect free to Internet service providers' networks directly, and it found an ally for its official plea to the Federal Communications Commission: comedian John Oliver.

On Wednesday, Netflix -- the streaming-subscription video service that accounts for more peak Internet traffic than any other company in the US -- submitted its official filing to the FCC about proposed Net neutrality rules, and it gave Oliver and his viral video about the proposals a shout-out.

The FCC is accepting public comment on the proposed guidelines to protect the open Internet, which could include the possibility of a so-called fast lane for priority traffic. The deadline for those comments was Tuesday, but a tidal wave of traffic crashed its website, and the FCC pushed back the deadline to Friday.

Netflix has long argued that interconnection -- the practice of content providers connecting directly to an ISP's network to get traffic to consumers without going through a middleman -- should be considered part of Net neutrality. The FCC has said interconnection is a separate issue, but Chairman Tom Wheeler has also asked to for details on Netflix's deals with ISPs.

Net neutrality is shorthand for the notion that all Internet content should be delivered without preference or discrimination. When a federal court quashed the FCC's previous Net neutrality rules, Netflix was in the spotlight for fears of higher fees from broadband providers, which in turn would mean higher bills for Netflix subscribers. But the issue is complicated by the intricacies of how the Internet works. Interconnection has been associated with small fees for years, and it is an aspect of traffic delivery that is completely apart from the traditional Net neutrality principle.

Netflix's official comment to the FCC on Wednesday rehashed many of the arguments company has made before, reiterating its opposition to "paid prioritization" fast lanes, stating its case that interconnection matters to an open Internet, and again accusing Comcast of depressing Netflix traffic when the companies were working on an interconnection deal.

In March, after Netflix and Comcast had reached a deal to interconnect for an undisclosed but relatively insignificant fee, Netflix kicked off a public shaming of Comcast, accusing the country's biggest cable company of being the poster child of "weak Net neutrality" and throttling Netflix traffic during negotiations. For its part, Comcast has rejected Netflix's claims, firing back that Netflix is responsible slowing speeds by routing its traffic purposely through congested routes.

More recently, Netflix got in some digs at Verizon as well, with messages to its customers that read: "The Verizon network is crowded right now. Adjusting video for smoother playback." Verizon fired back, calling the move a publicity stunt.

'Watch John Oliver'

In its latest message to the FCC, Netflix included a new footnote to its interconnection argument.

"Discrimination and unfair access charges at interconnection points are not theoretical. Their effects on consumers have been picked-up in the popular press," Netflix wrote. As support, it cited "Watch John Oliver, Last Week Tonight, HBO (June 1, 2014)" with a URL for the segment's YouTube clip.

The clip -- which derives from Oliver's satirical late-night talk show on HBO -- went viral last month, with its view count on YouTube now up to 4.7 million. His request that the Internet's "trolls" direct their indiscriminate rage at the FCC ended up crashing the FCC's public comment system for several hours.

Netflix is no troll, but it looks like CEO Reed Hastings took notice of Oliver's rallying cry.

 

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