Netflix Now Tells Users When Their ISPs Are Slow in Web Browser Messages

Verizon calls streamer's move to point out congestion a 'PR stunt'

Netflix has launched a new tool to point out to customers when their broadband providers are failing to deliver enough bandwidth to stream “House of Cards” or “Orange Is the New Black.”

The No. 1 subscription VOD service first started ranking ISPs by the quality of video streaming in early 2011. The Netflix “speed index,” which measures the average bandwidth of a user based on provider, has been part of an ongoing effort to encourage ISPs to install caching servers to improve performance.

Now, Netflix is informing customers who are experiencing buffering delays that their Internet service provider is congested, directly in the browser they’re using to stream video — and it’s naming names.

The development came to light Tuesday, when Vox Media’s Yuri Victor tweeted the image of a Netflix browser message that said, “The Verizon network is crowded right now.”

On Twitter, Netflix chief communications officer Jonathan Friedland confirmed that the message was authentic. “We’re always testing new ways to keep members informed,” he tweeted.

Verizon spokesman Alberto Canal, asked for comment, said: “This is a PR stunt. We’re investigating this claim but it seems misleading and could confuse people.”

SEE ALSO: Netflix Remains King of Bandwidth Usage, While YouTube Declines

Netflix consumes around one-third of all downstream Internet traffic during peak periods in North America, and the issues surrounding the delivery of all those bits has flared into public disputes with some big ISPs.

In April, Netflix agreed to pay Verizon to directly connect to the telco’s network, after striking a similar deal with Comcast. That’s not Netflix’s preference: CEO Reed Hastings said the company reluctantly agreed to those agreements, but has advocated a position that content services like Netflix shouldn’t have to pay a “toll” to ISPs to reach broadband users.

With the new browser message, “Netflix is looking to harness the power of its subscriber base to drive its message home to regulators and politicians,” BTIG Research analyst Rich Greenfield wrote in a blog post. “Essentially Netflix is saying, ‘Call Verizon, not us.'”

Netflix is trying to conflate the company’s disputes over paying for direct ISP connections — referred to as “paid peering” in the industry — with net neutrality. ISPs, and the Federal Communications Commission, have said the two issues are separate.

But Netflix has populist fervor on its side. The FCC has proposed new rules for net neutrality, which would allow for commercially “reasonable” deals under which content providers pay ISPs for dedicated bandwidth. One measure of Internet users’ passion about the subject: John Oliver, on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” this Sunday, urged viewers to register their comments about net neutrality on the FCC’s website — after which the commission’s comments system was knocked offline.

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