Netflix Will Stop Blaming Internet Providers for Slow Speeds — for Now

Verizon threatened to sue the video site over the congestion messages.

National Journal
Brendan Sasso
June 9, 2014, 9:25 a.m.

With Ve­r­i­zon threat­en­ing leg­al ac­tion, Net­flix said Monday it will stop telling users that their In­ter­net ser­vice pro­viders are re­spons­ible for poor video qual­ity.

In a blog post, Net­flix said the mes­sages are part of a “small-scale test” that will end June 16. “We will eval­u­ate rolling it out more broadly,” Jor­is Evers, a Net­flix spokes­man, wrote.

The mes­sages were first pub­li­cized last week in a tweet by Yuri Vic­tor, a de­sign­er at Vox.

“The Ve­r­i­zon net­work is crowded right now,” the mes­sage to Vic­tor read. “Ad­just­ing video for smooth­er play­back.”

The mes­sages were also dis­played on oth­er net­works, but Ve­r­i­zon fought back the most fiercely against the ac­cus­a­tion.

The tele­com gi­ant sent Net­flix a cease-and-de­sist let­ter, main­tain­ing that “there is no basis” to blame Ve­r­i­zon for slow speeds. In all like­li­hood, the prob­lems are a res­ult of how Net­flix has chosen to con­nect its video con­tent to Ve­r­i­zon’s net­work, Ve­r­i­zon wrote.

Al­though Net­flix ap­pears to be back­ing down over the con­ges­tion mes­sages, the com­pany still in­sists that the In­ter­net pro­viders are to blame for long buf­fer­ing times and blurry videos.

The prob­lems oc­cur “when the broad­band pro­vider hasn’t provided enough ca­pa­city to ac­com­mod­ate the traffic their cus­tom­er re­ques­ted,” Net­flix wrote.

The con­ges­tion mes­sages come as Net­flix is be­ing forced to pay for the first time for dir­ect con­nec­tions to In­ter­net pro­viders’ net­works.

Skip­ping over traffic in­ter­me­di­ar­ies and plug­ging dir­ectly in­to pro­viders’ net­works can en­sure that Net­flix’s data flows as smoothly as pos­sible to con­sumers.

Net­flix is pay­ing Com­cast for dir­ect ac­cess to its cus­tom­ers. The com­pany also struck a deal with Ve­r­i­zon, but it could take a few months to put the Ve­r­i­zon con­nec­tions in place.

The in­ter­con­nec­tion fights are sep­ar­ate from the is­sue of net neut­ral­ity — which gov­erns only how In­ter­net pro­viders must handle traffic once it’s on their net­works. But in prac­tice, the is­sues ap­pear the same to con­sumers. Net­flix traffic de­teri­or­ated stead­ily for Com­cast cus­tom­ers un­til the video site agreed to pay for the con­nec­tion deal, which led to a swift boost in qual­ity.

In the blog post, Net­flix ar­gued that large In­ter­net pro­viders are “erect­ing toll booths,” which “raise costs, stifle in­nov­a­tion, and harm con­sumers.”

Broad­band pro­viders “should provide suf­fi­cient ca­pa­city in­to their net­work to provide con­sumers the broad­band ex­per­i­ence for which they pay,” the video site wrote.

Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion Chair­man Tom Wheel­er has said he wants to look in­to the in­ter­con­nec­tion deals, but the agency has yet to take any form­al ac­tion.

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