Verizon Sends Netflix A Cease & Desist, Saying It Can't Blame Verizon For Clogged Networks

from the really,-now? dept

So, yesterday, some of the tech blogosphere blew up over the fact that Netflix had started blaming Verizon for network congestion:

Netflix claimed it had actually been testing this for a few weeks now, and others have seen it on AT&T networks as well. Verizon was, to put it mildly, not happy about all of this. It quickly told reporters that the whole thing was a “PR stunt” and pushed out an angry blog post, saying that it was all Netflix’s fault for the way it routed traffic to Verizon’s network. Notably, just about a month ago, Netflix had agreed to an interconnection deal, similar to the one that Netflix famously did with Comcast, but it’s possible that the new ports aren’t fully operational yet.

Either way, I was going to ignore this latest round of little stupid spats that have been going back and forth — except that now it appears that Verizon has taken it up a level and actually issued a cease and desist to Netflix sayng it should no longer blame Verizon when the network is clogged. I’m not sure what actual legal basis Verizon thinks it has to do this, and wonder if Netflix will just cave in and stop with the messages. But, it certainly would create quite the interesting lawsuit if Verizon decided to go to court about this. Update: Netflix has indicated that it won’t stop.

Either way, it’s pretty clear that even once Netflix has signed an interconnection agreement with them, these ISP’s are still not at all happy about the situation.

Update: Added an embed of the actual letter below.

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Companies: comcast, netflix, verizon

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Comments on “Verizon Sends Netflix A Cease & Desist, Saying It Can't Blame Verizon For Clogged Networks”

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55 Comments
ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Good...

I was going to ignore this latest round of little stupid spats that have been going back and forth — except that now it appears that Verizon has taken it up a level and actually issued a cease and desist to Netflix sayng it should no longer blame Verizon when the network is clogged.

I, for one, would love to see this go to court. These ISPs keep playing the role of mob-boss (“That is sure a nice looking good or service you got there, would be a shame if something should a’ happen to it,”) and pushing to tax everyone for access to their network. It would be nice to see them get slammed by the courts when it is revealed that they did, in-fact, saturate their links and throttle connections to Netflix in order to receive favorable benefits from the abuse of their monopoly status.

One thing we don’t currently have is court mandated discovery to base our understanding of what happened, but instead just the well developed investigation of third parties to show that something hokey is going on.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Good...

Which would demonstrate very little valuable information for the consumers…When it comes to streaming media, latency is less important than bandwidth.

Maybe, but it would also show you where the loading is on the network. If I have four gateways to the internet, and my routes are set up to load each gateway with 1/4 of the traffic, if I see a ton of dropped packets on a particular gateway, it may show me that the traffic through that particular gateway is being saturated, while the others are not. I’d certainly like to see what type of traffic is saturating that link (because it is probably a lot of huge packets.) Maybe adjust the policies to spread out the load a little better? But then again, I care about providing network service to my customers, not establishing a tollbooth so I can protect my dying cable business model.

But if I was an ISP that didn’t want Netflix to work properly until I get paid, I’d purposefully throw all my streaming traffic to Netflix on my slowest, most congested link. Seeing latency times routing directly to Netflix vs routing through a VPN to Netflix might give you a really good idea of what is going on, as some people have been able to show their traffic lagging when going directly to Netflix, while transiting normally through a VPN (despite the added overhead of the VPN.) And Level 3 already showed at least with Comcast that there was some evidence that this was going on.

Falindraun (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Good...

“And Level 3 already showed at least with Comcast that there was some evidence that this was going on.”

you are exactly right. this is the kind of thing that net neutrality was supposed to fix. as verizon would love for all of netflix’s customers to just use verizon’s video streaming service instead and part of how verizon tries to do this is by intentionally slowing down their customers traffic to netflix then blaming the entire thing on netflix.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Dear Verizon

Typical HTML rendering engines automatically collapse multiple spaces (or even tabs, I think) into just one space for display purposes; that’s been the case pretty much since the dawn of the Web.

There are ways to write a space in the raw HTML such that that doesn’t happen, but I don’t recall what any of them are off the top of my head.

The simplest way to avoid it is with the tag, which pretty much disables all HTML parsing and processing for whatever’s inside the tag, but that’s not on Techdirt’s list of allowed HTML tags.

Another Anonymous says:

Not Even An Accusation

That notice is simply an accurate observation: that the Verizon network as interfaced with Netflix is crowded. Hence, the need to adjust the video (resolution, I assume).

We need to be able to observe and report what is happening to do something to recover from it. The C&D letter is attempting to suppress speech about an accurate observation, in order to hide an unflattering public problem from public view.

zip says:

netflix vs p2p

Considering that ISPs were actively throttling –or even completely blocking– P2P users over the past dozen-plus years, it seems that, comparatively speaking, Netflix is getting some kid-gloves treatment from ISPs — despite sucking down an even bigger chunk of bandwidth than P2P ever did.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: netflix vs p2p

“Netflix is getting some kid-gloves treatment from ISPs — despite sucking down an even bigger chunk of bandwidth than P2P ever did”

Two things:

1. Netflix isn’t using the bandwidth, Verizon’s customers are, to access content on Netflix’s services. There’s ways for them to deal with their customer’s requests other than refusing to offer the service they paid for.

2. P2P consists of direct connections between users, hence the name. Therefore, Verizon would be justified in throttling traffic for non-commercial uses. That’s even before you get to the excuses handed out at the time (true, P2P was used for illegal content despite its many legal uses. However, Netflix is a 100% legal service so that excuse doesn’t fly).

In this case, Verizon is throttling not only a paid-for service, but also a direct competitor (Verizon offer a competing streaming service). A totally different situation, and absolutely not acceptable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Netflix run their own network. This is public information. AS55095 and AS2906. This means that some part of the network is entirely Netflix’s.

Now if more than 1 ISP was getting this message at the same time, the chances of that ISP being responsible are fairly slim. Not to say it can’t happen, it’s just much less likely than an actual bottleneck at Netflix.

Anonymous Coward says:

Awesome!

It’s about time that real businesses stopped playing nice with these pathetic monopolies. I wish Google had half as much spine as Netflix; I’m sick of hearing about them setting bad precedents by caving to special interest groups. “Sure, you can send 100 million takedown notices per day. Sure, we’ll let you delist any website that mentions your name.” Bah!

Dave Kalata (profile) says:

This was an interesting turn of events. I hope Netflix doesn’t flinch. I think we’d all like to see what happens in the discovery process. But legal issues are always so costly, that it might be more worthwhile to pull the list.

Still, I agree with the method. It’s absolutely TRUE that the network is hosed at the time that message appears.

Go Netflix!

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“After all if they’d agreed to Verizon’s paid peering pricing sooner then the congestion would be a thing of the past.”

Yeah, just pay the ransom blindly and everything will be OK. You can just trust that they’ll improve their infrastructure for the even higher bandwidth services that customers will be likely to demand in the near future (4K, HD game streaming, etc.) and not simply demand other ransoms…

Anonymous Coward says:

The legal angle is related to slander and making false claims. Maybe Verizon’s network is/was congested but maybe not. There could be a variety of reasons. Without having a full end to end view of the data path you cannot say for sure where the congestion or other problem really exists.
Im not siding with either company, just pointing out that it’s risky and ill advised to automatically blame the other guy and claim you know the exact problem.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The other take is that Netflix know exactly what’s happening on their own network (and traffic to other ISPs), so assigning “blame” to the other guy isn’t a false claim since they know the problem is on their end.

Realistically, this is just what YouTube have been doing with their DMCA takedown notifications. They know that they’ll automatically be blamed for any problems, and may already be tired of fielding customer complaints at their own expense that they can’t do anything about. So, making sure that customers know where the blame truly lies is about the best they can do.

Since Netflix are apparently not going to comply with the notice, I’m sure they have the evidence to present in court that at the time these messages were appearing, Verizon was indeed congested. We shall see.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

What NetFlix Could Do.

A lot of people here seem to lose sight of the fact that Netflix, like any other streaming video service, has a client running on the user’s computer, which can monitor network performance and make adjustments. Netflix could set up a kind of fault-tolerant video delivery system. What one can do is to organize the video stream as a series of sub-streams. The first stream is one of minimal quality. The second stream is one of higher quality, but compactly expressed as mathematical differences from the first stream (additional Fourier Transform coefficients), so that the first and second stream, taken together, use up no more storage space or transmission capacity than if the higher quality picture were sent as a single stream. One can have a number of sub-streams, each of increasing quality and mathematically dependent on the previous sub-streams. The sub-streams are organized into successive packets, for each interval of time. It’s rather like building a brick wall– one can make ongoing trade-offs between length and height. The receiving program can ask for additional packets from this sub-stream or that sub-stream. I should add that this does not necessarily mean using a UDP protocol– it can equally well mean making HTTP requests for megabyte-sized chunks. The client program’s first priority is to accumulate a sufficient advance-cache of packets from the first sub-stream, say, five minutes or so, and then to accumulate packets from the second sub-stream, and so on. The result is that the video will degrade gracefully if the supply of packets is interrupted, delayed, or disrupted.

As against this, the whole idea of Network Congestion simply doesn’t pass muster, as I have repeatedly pointed out.

Of course, NetFlix is, I suppose one would say, complicit in the movie industry. It is trapped into a position of insisting that higher resolution makes a movie or television show significantly better, and that 400-600 megabytes/hr (900-1300 kilobits/sec) is not “good enough.” The movie industry has bought into the dogma of “higher resolution,” I think, largely in the hope that big files will be too difficult for end-users to informally copy and pass around. Copy protection by bulk, so to speak. Essentially no one in the movie industry is prepared to contemplate what happens when the average customer buys, or “obtains,” a hundred hours of video, in the form of one or more discs, for the price of a McDonald’s hamburger, and accumulates a sizable video library. Bootleggers seem to be much more clear-sighted than the movie industry about what is essential, and what is not essential.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: What NetFlix Could Do.

Unless I’m very much mistaken,. Netflix already adjusts for quality during streaming, increasing and decreasing quality depending on bandwidth availability. I’ve seen it many times, especially during the buffering stage at the start of playback. In fact, that’s exactly what the message in the screenshot above says it’s doing.

I’m not entirely sure what you’re getting at with the rest of your wall o’text. Are you trying to say that there’s no consumer demand and/or consumers can’t tell the difference between SD and HD video? I’ll agree with you that there’s probably not that great a demand for 4K, especially with regard to older titles. But are Netflix “complicit in the movie industry” (whatever that means) because they’re supplying HD streams to those who demand them?

“As against this, the whole idea of Network Congestion simply doesn’t pass muster”

Also, I haven’t got a clue what you mean by this – would you care to elaborate or link to the previous comments I don’t recall reading? Are you actually saying that a network cannot be congested?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What NetFlix Could Do.

Indeed. I watch Netflix using an app on my smart TV. The first ten seconds of anything I watch are typically low quality as the app adjusts to find an appropriate resolution. I can hit the info key on my remote, and the box that pops up includes resolution info. So I can watch it change as the app makes adjustments.

Normally, I don’t see much beyond the initial quality adjustment. If it shifts at all, it’s between 720 and 1080. However, last week, I had a few times when watching Breaking Bad during prime time hours that the resolution dropped down to 240. At that point, it’s such crap, I couldn’t believe they’d send that to a large-screen TV app. Anyway, it eventually worked its way back up to 480 for a while anyway. And this was all without any interruption in the stream.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Re: What NetFlix Could Do.

Well, here’s a link to a comment with links to previous comments over the last couple of years.

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140529/18081527399/if-comcast-ceo-brian-roberts-really-believes-netflix-gets-bandwidth-free-will-he-pay-netflixs-bandwidth-bill.shtml#c678

I’m finding that if I don’t do this explicit linkback process at every comment, people who are familiar with Comcast lobbyist’s talking points, and nothing else, attempt to restart the discussion at zero point. At least I know that you are not a recently manufactured identity of a Comcast sock-puppet. However, to repeat succinctly: the basic components of telecommunications, things like optical fibers and transistors on chips, switch at T-bit rates or better (the last I heard, the Japanese NT&T had gotten a single-core fiber up to 30 T-bits, and the theoretical capacity is something like 600 T-bits). Networks have such incredible economies of scale towards their centers, that the subscriber loop costs far more than the equipment necessary to switch it, even on a worst-case basis of everyone talking at once. The cost of telecommunications networks ultimately works out to someone digging a ditch along a residential street, in order to install cables leading to houses. I had come to this conclusion some years ago by doing “costing-out exercises,” that is, building models of networks, drawing up bills of materials, and doing some comparison shopping to get an idea of prices for components like switches. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned my conclusions, and was invited to post my model. Now, that was a real wall of text.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: What NetFlix Could Do.

“I’m finding that if I don’t do this explicit linkback process at every comment, people who are familiar with Comcast lobbyist’s talking points, and nothing else, attempt to restart the discussion at zero point.”

If you’re referring to comments you made in a completely different thread, then people who didn’t read that thread (or specifically remember your name attached to said comment) will not know what you’re talking about – unless you actually link to the comment. If you don’t mention that you’re referring to a specific comment, people will have to make assumptions about what you mean, and sometimes those assumptions can be wrong.

Those are hazards of posting on a forum like this, unfortunately. If you find you need to keep repeating the same point, it might not be that you need to find a better way of getting it across.

However, while I thank you for the rest of your comment, I’m still not sure what your criticism of Netflix is meant to be. Your linked comment appears to be some vague attempt to compare the physical postal service to how Netflix use the internet, but it’s not particularly clear. You’re really not getting your point across very well, I’m afraid.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: What NetFlix Could Do.

” What one can do is to organize the video stream as a series of sub-streams. The first stream is one of minimal quality. The second stream is one of higher quality”

As PaulT says, Netflix already does something very similar to this. They have been doing everything you’re suggesting for years.

“It is trapped into a position of insisting that higher resolution makes a movie or television show significantly better”

Not really. Netflix adjusts the quality of the stream according to network performance (it degrades gracefully), the resolution of the display device, and other factors (such as if your computer isn’t keeping with the bitstream). Their intention is to provide the highest quality stream that you can support within the current state of your network and hardware. This isn’t automatically the highest resolution stream.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Re: What NetFlix Could Do.

The system I described is more or less textbook stuff. I’m not particularly surprised to hear that NetFlix is using it, though, ideally, the increments should be small enough to make it difficult to detect switches in image quality. I suppose what I am thinking of is more along the lines that NetFlix reacts as if its business model was being undermined if the image quality goes down a bit. Instead of shrugging, and observing that the system is designed to cope with a bit of noise, they start trumpeting “woe is me!”

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: What NetFlix Could Do.

“I’m not particularly surprised to hear that NetFlix is using it, though”

Just a suggestion – before you directly criticise Netflix and how they supply their content and service, you should perhaps familiarise yourself with how they actually do it. Or, admit you’re wrong. There’s no shame in that, but if you’re getting assumptions wrong about what Netflix are doing on a “textbook” level, why should anyone take any notice of less obvious things you’re criticising?

“I suppose what I am thinking of is more along the lines that NetFlix reacts as if its business model was being undermined if the image quality goes down a bit.”

It is. The average consumer will blame the platform they’re looking at, not the one that drives it. That is, if they’re getting crappy quality on Netflix while using Verizon, but are getting decent streaming quality through Verizon’s own service, they’re not going to blame Verizon. Netflix will have to deal with complaints and lose customers to other services for something that verizon is doing.

Is that really so hard to understand?

KevinEHayden (profile) says:

Time to squeeze the ISPs from both ends

At one end Netflix and the other content providers need to band together and let the ISPs know that they won’t put up with this. If it doesn’t stop they should create a new corporation between them with the intention of providing home internet service at a fair price. (Similar to the Google fiber stuff). At the other end, they need to stir their customers up enough so that they’ll go after the politicians and other authorities that are propping up the fake ISP monopolies locally. Then, the ISPs will either adapt and provide what people want or die.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why did they agree to pay the ISPs anyway?

I can’t figure out why they didn’t put that message up earlier, and one for Comcast, and simply refused to pay them. The customer backlash would likely have forced the ISPs to cave in and stop their bullshit anyway.

“Sorry, but your ISP is trying to bully us into paying them to connect you to the internet. All complaints should be addressed to them.”

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