FCC bigwig grills Netflix: If internet fast lanes are so bad, why did YOU build them?

Commish demands answers on 'conflict of interest'

An FCC commissioner has 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.

Netflix pays Comcast and Verizon to install servers within their broadband networks to stream movies and TV shows straight to their subscribers – without having to go across the wider, slower web like its rivals.

Meanwhile, Netflix publicly slams internet fast lanes as a terrible idea. The FCC is mulling regulations to make all web traffic equal, hence commissioner Ajit Pai's interest in Netflix's thinking – crucially, does the vid biz consider caching servers to be internet fast lanes?

Pai, one of five commissioners at US watchdog the FCC, today sent an open letter to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings asking him to explain why his company advocates for net neutrality but also pays ISPs to get higher speeds for its customers.

"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 writes.

In the letter, Pai also wonders if the company is also pushing its own standards for video streaming. The commish said Netflix's use of proprietary caching technology in particular undermines the idea of net neutrality.

"I understand that Netflix has at times changed its streaming protocols where open caching is used, which impedes open caching software from correctly identifying and caching Netflix traffic," Pai writes.

"Because Netflix traffic constitutes such a substantial percentage of streaming video traffic, measures like this threaten the viability of open standards."

Netflix did not respond to The Register's request for comment on the letter.

According to analyst estimates, Netflix accounts for as much as one third of all downstream traffic during peak usage hours in the US. The streaming biz has inked a number of peering and caching deals with ISPs to improve streaming performance while advocating for net neutrality.

Most notably, Netflix has been locked up in public feuds with AT&T and Verizon over the handling of Netflix traffic by the ISPs.

Netflix has accused the broadband providers of deliberately limiting the bandwidth available for its streaming video – in order to persuade the upstart to pay for caching servers – while the service providers claim the responsibility for securing bandwidth falls on Netflix. ®

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