FCC Presses Netflix on Question of Internet ‘Fast Lanes’

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai is calling on Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to explain whether the streaming service is seeking its own preferential Internet “fast lanes” to consumers while pressing the agency to adopt strict net neutrality rules.

Pai’s letter on Tuesday cites reports that Netflix has refused to participate in the Streaming Video Alliance, which is developing open standards for streaming video. YouTube also is not a member, and both companies have been investing in their own video distribution infrastructure.

But Pai, who is one of two Republican commissioners at the FCC, suggested that Netflix has undermined aspects of open standards for streaming video even as it pushes for net neutrality rules.

“Specifically, I understand that Netflix has at times changed its streaming protocols where open caching is used, which impedes open caching software from correctly identifying and caching Netflix traffic,” Pai wrote. “Because Netflix traffic constitutes such a substantial percentage of streaming video traffic, measures like this threaten the viability of open standards.” He asked Hastings to address whether this meant that Netflix was seeking its own proprietary “caching appliance” that would mean its videos “would run the equivalent of a 100-yard dash while its competitors’ videos would have to run a marathon.”

He noted that Netflix has been a proponent of reclassifying the Internet as a Title II common carrier, a move that is under consideration by the FCC to establish a strong legal footing to ban “fast lanes,” or paid prioritization.

Netflix also has been an opponent of Comcast’s plans to merge with Time Warner Cable, arguing that the cable giant already has the power to demand so-called interconnection fees from content companies to ensure that their video streams are delivered with quality to their subscribers.

A spokeswoman for Netflix had no comment.

Pai asked Hastings to respond by Dec. 16. The commission is in the midst of a rulemaking process on net neutrality concerns after a federal appeals court in January struck down the FCC’s previous regulations.

The Obama administration has pushed for Title II reclassification of broadband service, which would open providers up to more federal oversight. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has hinted that he is pursuing an alternative approach.

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