Shots Fired in Net Neutrality Battle Between Netflix and Verizon

Shots Fired in Net Neutrality Battle Between Netflix and Verizon

An interesting tidbit of news, courtesy of CNBC:

Verizon sent Netflix a letter demanding the streaming service cease and desist false claims and unfair business practices on Thursday.

The letter comes after an article on Quartz reported Netflix displayed “error messages” that blame the Netflix user’s Verizon internet service provider for connection problems.

“There is no basis for Netflix to assert that issues with respect to playback of any particular video session are attributable solely to the Verizon network,” reads the letter.

It’ll be interesting to see how this turns out.  It might have implications for other Net Neutrality conflicts to come.  Basically, services like Netflix, which consume a great deal of bandwidth to send streaming video, complain that Internet providers are either billing them (and coming soon, also billing users) unreasonable fees for their heavy traffic.  Sometimes they also complain that ISPs are deliberately interfering with popular streaming-video services and making them run too slowly, either to use bandwidth for other purposes, or to make third-party services appear inferior to streaming video offered by the ISP.  In other words, a company like Verizon might stand accused of sabotaging Netflix in order to make streaming movies from Verizon look better.

Of course, the ISPs offer the other side of this argument, claiming that streaming video eats up a disproportionate amount of bandwidth, so it’s reasonable to charge extra for such high-intensity traffic.  One Netflix or Amazon customer might consume the bandwidth of a hundred people who just do a little light web-surfing and check their email occasionally.  If there’s no way to charge more to the bandwidth hogs – either the streaming services, their customers, or both – then it will no longer be possible to offer low-cost Internet access to the light users.  This leads to a third battle front in the Net Neutrality wars, as there have been accusation bandwidth is nowhere near as scarce as some Internet providers claim, so rationing and surcharges are not necessary.

If Netflix is confident their display of the error messages blaming Verizon is justified, maybe they’ll want to put up a fight here, and this will become a landmark case.  It should be possible to empirically demonstrate that either Netflix or Verizon has the better of this dispute – either the Verizon network is hindering Netflix, or it’s not, and there are ways to settle the question definitively.  

(Full disclosure: I’m a Netflix customer myself, but not a Verizon user.  I’m very curious to see these network arguments settled, and not really prejudiced in favor of either side at the moment.)