Oct 16, 2018 | Updated: 04:34 PM EDT

FCC to Look Into Netflix, Verizon, Comcast, and other ISP Connection Fights

Jul 13, 2014 02:43 AM EDT

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Netflix's public disputes with ISPs have lead the Federal Communications Commission to take a look at paid interconnection deals, and a little light is already being shed on the contentious issue of paid peering.

Netflix hasn't been very quiet about its streaming woes with internet service providers, recently receiving a cease and desist letter from Verizon for a message saying "The Verizon network is crowded right now. Adjusting video for smoother playback..." whenever streamers can't get their content right away. Previously Netflix CEO called for a new, broader definition of net neutrality - one that would protect Netflix and other content networks from having to pay for direct connections to ISPs to deliver better quality video streaming - and appealing directly to the FCC with its issues.

Now it appears Netflix is getting some results in its fight against ISPs that, intentionally or not, hurt its video streaming traffic. In a statement released late last week, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said he would direct the agency to look into the issue of traffic exchange between ISPs and other networks and services.

"We don't know the answers and we are not suggesting that any company is at fault," cautioned Wheeler, who notably did not promise any action beyond collecting information about the issue. "I have experienced these problems myself and know how exasperating it can be." Wheeler continued:

"Consumers must get what they pay for. As the consumer's representative we need to know what is going on. I have therefore directed the Commission staff to obtain the information we need to understand precisely what is happening in order to understand whether consumers are being harmed. Recently, at my direction, Commission staff has begun requesting information from ISPs and content providers."

While Wheeler is promising no regulatory action, saying, "To be clear, what we are doing right now is collecting information, not regulating," the FCC has already gotten some results.

"We have received the agreements between Comcast and Netflix and Verizon and Netflix. We are currently in the process of asking for others," wrote Wheeler.

That information hasn't been released to the public, but the more transparency about how the internet works "under the hood," the better. Netflix is happy about the FCC's action, saying, "We welcome the FCC's efforts to bring more transparency in this area. Americans deserve to get the speed and quality of Internet access they pay for," according to Ars Technica.

And, for its part, Netflix has provided transparency for quite some time, in the form of a monthly ISP speed index on its blog. And the speed index for May reveals that, despite begrudgingly paying for direct access to Verizon's network at the end of April, Netflix streaming speeds have actually declined on Verizon FiOS and DSL.

Not getting what they paid for: Netflix speeds on Verizon's network have actually declined the month after the two companies reached a paid peering deal. Not getting what they paid for: Netflix speeds on Verizon's network have actually declined the month after the two companies reached a paid peering deal.

Compared to Comcast, with which Netflix made a similar deal in late February (and it shows), Netflix's deal with Verizon seems to have not been worth the money. For its part, Netflix's declining streaming speed and the sudden leap in quality on Comcast, after Netflix agreed to the ISP's demands, was recently mentioned by comedian John Oliver as having "all the ingredients of a mob shakedown."

Unlike with Comcast, where streaming speeds skyrocketed after Netflix agreed to pay.  Unlike with Comcast, where streaming speeds skyrocketed after Netflix agreed to pay.

The Netflix/ISP peering battle is just one sideshow to the biggest possible policy change in the history of the internet - a veritable redefinition of how much control ISPs are allowed to have over the delivery of content that consumers pay for - in front of the FCC this summer. (It's also a sideshow to a potentially industry-shaking merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable). Wheeler said the Netflix issue would be dealt with separately from its comments period and upcoming vote on redefining its Open Internet rules to allow ISPs to create "fast lanes" for internet companies that can afford to pay.

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