Services & Software

Comcast fights back against Netflix’s poor viewability claims

After Netflix publicly opposes the possible Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger, Comcast for the first time claims it was the video-streaming service that had a hand in viewing quality issues.

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The Netflix and Comcast saga appears to have gone from hair-pulling to punching. After Netflix publicly spoke out against the possible Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger earlier this week, Comcast has fired back with its own volley of criticisms.

"Netflix's argument is a House of Cards," Comcast's senior vice president for corporate and digital communications in public policy Jennifer Khoury said in a statement. "But there is no need for us to engage in a point-counterpoint with Netflix to demonstrate the continued distortions and inaccuracies on which it relies. As we and other industry observers have already noted, Netflix's decision to reroute its Internet traffic was all about improving Netflix's business model."

This time, however, Comcast's denunciations go further than the usual claims that Netflix is all about the bottom line. For the first time, in Khoury's statement, Comcast pulled the "viewability" blame card on Netflix.

"As at least one independent commentator has pointed out, it was not Comcast that was creating viewability issues for Netflix customers, it was Netflix's commercial transit decisions that created these issues," Khoury said.

The two companies have for years been locked in a dispute over the cost of delivering Netflix streams to customers over Comcast's broadband network. While Netflix wanted to connect to Comcast's network for free, the cable giant sought compensation for the heavy traffic that Netflix users generate, arguing that it costs the company a lot to deliver Internet video.

In recent months, the dispute appeared to be heating up, with suggestions that Comcast customers were seeing their connections to Netflix degraded. Finally, in February, in what seemed like a make-nice situation, the two companies came to a deal in which Netflix agreed to pay Comcast an undisclosed sum to connect directly to Comcast's network instead of going through intermediaries, as it formerly did.

Instead of the companies shaking hands and becoming friends, they've continued to publicly bicker over the cost of a speedier interconnected Internet service.

Netflix has been especially vocal with its grumblings about having to pay for interconnection with Comcast. Then, to add fuel to the fire, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings publicly objected to the possible $45 billion Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal on Tuesday.

"I don't know that we want anybody to control half of the US Internet, and that's the real basis of our objection to the merger," he said.

On Wednesday, Netflix's vice president of global public policy Christopher Libertelli penned a lengthy letter (PDF) detailing why the merger would be bad for consumers and the industry. The letter was in response to questions posed by US Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who is also a critic of the possible acquisition. Libertelli also continued to blame Comcast for poor viewability issues.

"Comcast is limiting the capacity of connections between its network and other networks, unless the network agrees to pay Comcast for access," Libertelli wrote. "Prior to our agreement to interconnect directly with Comcast, Netflix purchased all available transit capacity into Comcast's networks from multiple transit providers. Every single one of those transit links to Comcast was congested (even though the transit providers requested extra capacity), resulting in poor video quality for our members."

It's unclear if Netflix's opinion on the possible Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal will have any sway with the Federal Communications Commission. If the government does approve the merger, it could create a cable empire serving 33 million customers across the US.

CNET has contacted Netflix for comment on Comcast's "viewability" claims and will update this report when we learn more.