updated 11:50 am EDT, Sat June 14, 2014
Peering deals seem to have little lasting effect on Netflix user speeds
After a bevy of consumer complaints were filed with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against Verizon and Comcast regarding Netflix "throttling," the regulatory agency has begun looking into the problem. The FCC demanded, and has received, the terms of peering deals that Netflix made with both Internet giants, and will examine the issue to see if there is anything that can be done on behalf of consumers.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler declared in a post on the FCC website that "consumers pay their ISP and they pay content providers like Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon. Then when they don't get good service, they wonder what is going on," noting that "I have experienced these problems myself, and know how exasperating it can be."
The investigation is just in the information-gathering phase. It is unclear what power the FCC has over these deals, as the matter is regarding "exchange of traffic between ISPs and other networks and services" and not specifically a public service matter. Were Internet providers regulated under Title II by the FCC as public utilities, as Chairman Wheeler recently threatened, the matter would clearly be the under the agency's authority to resolve.
Verizon believes, regarding the investigative process, that "Internet traffic exchange has always been handled through commercial agreements. This has worked well for the Internet ecosystem and consumers. We are hopeful that policy makers will recognize this fact, and that the Internet will continue to be the engine of growth of the global economy."
Netflix continues to take Verizon to task for poor connectivity, even given its peering deal the pair share. Netflix general counsel David Hyman wrote a letter to Verizon, claiming that the issues aren't Netflix's problem, and "to try to shift blame to us for performance issues arising from interconnection congestion is like blaming drivers on a bridge for traffic jams when you're the one who decided to leave three lanes closed during rush hour," a reference to the Chris Christie scandal that could be interpreted by some as inferring that Verizon is exacting retribution on Netflix for the popularity of the service, which has forced providers like Verizon to increase infrastructure to handle the increased bandwidth demands.
Comcast says that the company "welcomes this review, which will allow the commission full transparency into the entire Internet backbone ecosystem and enable full education as to how this market works." It is unclear as to whom Comcast wants to educate, presumably the public, as Chairman Wheeler is a veteran of the cable industry and, indeed, a former lobbyist for it.
No definitive action has been promised, but Wheeler promises that "consumers must get what they pay for" and the FCC as the customer's representative "needs to know what is going on."