Netflix's Hastings makes the case for Net neutrality

In his ongoing battle against big ISPs, like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, the video streaming service's CEO says, "Net neutrality must be defended and strengthened."

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read
A Netflix diagram of how ISPs deliver Web access to consumers. Netflix

Though Netflix agreed last month to pay Comcast for direct access to its broadband network, it doesn't appear to like the arrangement.

The video-streaming service's CEO, Reed Hastings, penned a blog post on Thursday making an impassioned plea for support of Net neutrality.

"The Internet is improving lives everywhere -- democratizing access to ideas, services, and goods," Hastings wrote. "To ensure the Internet remains humanity's most important platform for progress, Net neutrality must be defended and strengthened. The essence of Net neutrality is that ISPs such as AT&T and Comcast don't restrict, influence, or otherwise meddle with the choices consumers make."

Complete Net neutrality would mean that broadband providers, like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and Time Warner Cable, could not block access or discriminate against Internet traffic traveling over their connections. For instance, Netflix users could consume as much Web traffic as they like without having slowed service, raised fees, or higher costs going to Netflix.

"This weak Net neutrality isn't enough to protect an open, competitive Internet; a stronger form of Net neutrality is required," Hastings wrote. "Strong Net neutrality additionally prevents ISPs from charging a toll for interconnection to services like Netflix, YouTube, or Skype, or intermediaries such as Cogent, Akamai, or Level 3, to deliver the services and data requested by ISP residential subscribers. Instead, they must provide sufficient access to their network without charge."

Last month, Netflix made a deal with Comcast to pay for direct access to its broadband network. Under the so-called "paid peering" deal, which was deemed mutually beneficial, Netflix will be allowed to connect directly to Comcast's network instead of going through intermediaries, as it formerly did.

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. Netflix released data earlier this year that showed the average Netflix streaming speed declined 27 percent since October.

While Hastings has been clear about his support for Net neutrality, Comcast also says it strongly believes in an open Internet.

"There has been no company that has had a stronger commitment to openness of the Internet than Comcast," Comcast's executive vice president, David L. Cohen, said in a statement. "We supported the FCC's Open Internet rules because they struck the appropriate balance between consumer protection and reasonable network management rights for ISPs."

"Providers like Netflix have always paid for their interconnection to the Internet and have always had ample options to ensure that their customers receive an optimal performance through all ISPs at a fair price," he continued. "We are happy that Comcast and Netflix were able to reach an amicable, market-based solution to our interconnection issues and believe that our agreement demonstrates the effectiveness of the market as a mechanism to deal with these matters."

The deal between the two companies came shortly after Comcast announced a $45 billion deal for Time Warner Cable, a merger that, if approved, could create a cable empire serving 33 million customers across the country.

Hastings, along with many other Web site operators, most likely fears that if Net neutrality isn't adhered to, ISPs could raise costs across the board.

"Without strong Net neutrality, big ISPs can demand potentially escalating fees for the interconnection required to deliver high quality service," Hastings wrote. "The big ISPs can make these demands -- driving up costs and prices for everyone else -- because of their market position. For any given US household, there is often only one or two choices for getting high-speed Internet access and that's unlikely to change. Furthermore, Internet access is often bundled with other services making it challenging to switch ISPs. It is this lack of consumer choice that leads to the need for strong Net neutrality."