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AT&T and Netflix get into very public spat over net neutrality

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Friday is the deadline for public comment on US comms watchdog the FCC's forthcoming net neutrality regulations. And, as the deadline approaches, two of the major protagonists have got into a (sometimes bitchy) online spat.

On Thursday Netflix CEO Reed Hastings published a pugnacious blog post saying that the FCC needs to introduce net neutrality rules that are stronger than those which went before. Specifically, he wants networks to provide content at a set price without charging any extras of either the supplier of the consumer.

Last month Netflix struck a deal with Comcast whereby the streaming video supplier agreed to pay in order to ensure its TV programs and films were reliably piped to broadband users. Hastings said that the company had been OK with this, but claimed other ISPs were using Verizon's January court win against the FCC to throttle back web services.

"Some big ISPs are extracting a toll because they can – they effectively control access to millions of consumers and are willing to sacrifice the interests of their own customers to press Netflix and others to pay," he concluded.

"Though they have the scale and power to do this, they should realize it is in their long term interest to back strong net neutrality. While in the short term Netflix will in cases reluctantly pay large ISPs to ensure a high quality member experience, we will continue to fight for the Internet the world needs and deserves."

This provoked a response from just such an ISP. On Friday AT&T's public policy chief Jim Cicconi published a rather catty blog answering Hastings' points.

"I saw Reed Hasting’s blog yesterday from Netflix asserting in rather dramatic fashion (with diagrams) that ISPs should build facilities (he said provide, but those facilities have to be built) to accept all of Netflix’s content – indeed all of the content on the Internet – without charge," he said.

"Failure to do so, according to Mr Hastings, was a violation of 'strong net neutrality rules' and bad public policy."

Cicconi argues that the increasing amounts of bandwidth being taken up by Netflix means networks need to be upgraded to handle it. Under deals such as the one Netflix struck with Comcast, the streaming company (and thus Netflix customers) pay the extra costs.

Netflix still mails out DVDs to customers, he said, and pays the cost of postage. Why then should it not also pay a contribution to the transport of its streaming content? Cicconi says that under Hastings' plans the cost of building extra capacity should be borne by the network providers, who would pass on the cost to all of their consumers.

"As we all know, there is no free lunch, and there’s also no cost-free delivery of streaming movies. Someone has to pay that cost," Cicconi said. "Mr Hastings’ arrogant proposition is that everyone else should pay but Netflix. That may be a nice deal if he can get it. But it’s not how the Internet, or telecommunication for that matter, has ever worked." ®

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