Netflix CEO knocks Comcast in call for stronger net neutrality rules

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A month after Netflix opted to pay up for better direct access to Comcast’s network, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings blasted his company’s new business partner and other Internet service providers for their stances on net neutrality.

“Without strong net neutrality, big ISPs can demand potentially escalating fees for the interconnection required to deliver high-quality service,” Hastings wrote in a Thursday night blog post. “The big ISPs can make these demands—driving up costs and prices for everyone else—because of their market position.”

CEO Reed Hastings with relics from Netflix’s early days, before streaming.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings probably wasn’t smiling like this when he fired off that blog post about Comcast.

Hastings’s comments are the first time his company has tackled net neutrality since an appeals court struck down the FCC’s net neutrality rules back in January. Net neutrality advocates fear that without strong rules, ISPs will be able to charge for premium access to their networks, speeding up services for companies willing to pay for the privilege.

And that’s precisely the argument Hastings picks up in his blog post, with the Netflix CEO calling out Comcast as a backer of the kind of “weak” net neutrality that “isn’t enough to protect an open, competitive Internet.” Hastings would prefer to strengthen net neutrality rules and cites Cablevision as an ISP that backs strong net neutrality.

“To ensure the Internet remains humanity’s most important platform for progress, net neutrality must be defended and strengthened,” Hastings wrote. “ISPs must provide sufficient access to their network without charge.”

It’s an issue near and dear to Netflix’s heart. The company depends on ISPs to provide good speeds for its streaming media service. As Netflix’s popularity has grown, streaming performance on the networks of major ISPs has suffered—particularly on Comcast, the nation’s largest Internet provider. That’s why Netflix ponied up for a direct connection to Comcast earlier this year; not surprisingly, speeds have improved, something Hastings confirmed in his latest blog post.

“Netflix believes strong net neutrality is critical, but in the near term we will in cases pay the toll to the powerful ISPs to protect our consumer experience. When we do so, we don’t pay for priority access against competitors, just for interconnection,” Hastings wrote.

Citing the Comcast agreement, Hastings noted that Netflix members are “getting a good experience again. Comcast has been an industry leader in supporting weak net neutrality, and we hope they’ll support strong net neutrality as well.”

While Hastings comments about net neutrality are being cheered in some corners of the Internet, StreamingMediaBlog points out that Netflix didn’t detail any net neutrality rules of its own. Instead, the site argues that Hastings and Netflix’s partners are speaking in high-level terms without really digging into what strong net neutrality rules should look like.

And that’s not a bad point: Net neutrality as we know it is dead, and new rules will have to take its place. It’s time for companies to start working together and with the appropriate regulatory bodies to redefine what net neutrality is. The longer the wait, the greater potential there is for an Internet that’s not very friendly to consumers.

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