Netflix: We're not using Internet fast lanes

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Netflix, accused of taking advantage of Internet fast lanes while calling on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to prohibit them, has defended its practice of signing traffic peering agreements with large broadband providers.

Netflix’s traffic interconnection deals with Comcast, AT&T and other ISPs in the past year have led to questions from critics, after the company has called for strong net neutrality rules that would prohibit broadband providers from entering into traffic priority agreements with Web content providers.

But those deals were not an attempt by Netflix to gain a fast-lane advantage over other Web traffic, the company said Monday. Instead, there is a misconception about those traffic deals, Ken Florance, Netflix’s vice president of content delivery, wrote in a blog post.

“Without those payments, ISPs allowed these connection points to congest, resulting in a poor video streaming experience for Netflix users on those networks,” Florance wrote. “While Netflix was able to meet the demand for payments, we continue to believe this practice stands in contrast to an open Internet and all its promise.”

Large broadband providers have denied deliberately slowing Netflix traffic on their networks, instead blaming slow Netflix connections in part on unbalanced peering agreements that had Netflix and its backbone providers sending much more traffic to large ISPs than receiving from them.

Florance’s blog post repeated Netflix criticisms suggesting ISPs were deliberately slowing its traffic. “After we paid up [under the new deals], our traffic began moving at the same speed as everyone else not facing congestion,” he wrote.

Netflix’s own traffic peering service, its Open Connect Content Delivery Network, “doesn’t prioritize the data Netflix users have requested,” Florance added. “Rather it makes delivery of it more efficient for us and for the ISP.”

Netflix’s traffic deals with ISPs and other practices have drawn criticism, most notably from FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who questioned the company’s concern about net neutrality rules that would allow Internet fast lanes.

“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,” Pai wrote to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in December.

Pai’s letter raised concerns about reports that Netflix has decided not to participate in efforts to develop open standards for streaming video while pushing its Open Connect service to ISPs. “If ISPs were to install open caching appliances throughout their networks, all video content providers—including Netflix—could compete on a level playing field,” Pai wrote. “If, however, ISPs were to install Netflix’s proprietary caching appliance instead, Netflix’s video would run the equivalent of a 100-yard dash while its competitors’ videos would have to run a marathon.”

Netflix doesn’t want paid fast lanes, Florance wrote Monday. “A large part of the debate about net neutrality is focused on ensuring it stays that way,” he wrote. “If ISPs are allowed to sell fast lanes, competition for various Internet sites and services will become less about the value of what’s offered and more about who can pay the most to deliver it faster. It would be the very opposite environment than the one the Internet created.”

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