FCC Begins Investigating Comcast And Verizon Making Netflix Pay To Avoid Congestion
from the but-still-won't-call-it-net-neutrality dept
Throughout the most recent version of the net neutrality fight, Tom Wheeler and the FCC has worked hard to keep interconnection issues a separate debate, even though interconnection is likely where the real fight has moved. In short, if you haven’t been following this closely, net neutrality has historically been about discrimination on the last mile — from your broadband access provider to your home — but over the past couple of years, the big broadband companies (mainly Comcast) have realized they can get the same basic result (getting big internet companies like Netflix to double pay for your bandwidth) by clogging up the transit, and getting Netflix to pay up to interconnect directly. However, in the minds of most people, it’s the same thing. Even while the congestion is happening on the network, the end result for everyone is effectively the same: Netflix has to pay to get a quality stream to you, your connection sucks if they don’t pay, and Comcast collects all the money. So, when John Oliver did his piece on net neutrality, he actually illustrated it with the interconnection battle. And that’s because it’s really the same thing.
Well, it’s really the same thing to just about everyone… except the FCC. The FCC’s request for comments explicitly tries to avoid delving into the interconnection fights, but thanks to things like John Oliver’s coverage, many of the comments the FCC has been receiving have been about those issues anyway. Apparently realizing that he can’t avoid the issue, FCC boss Tom Wheeler has announced that he’s now “gathering information” on these interconnection fights and has specifically asked Comcast, Verizon and Netflix to hand over the details of their arrangement. Wheeler even quotes one of the comments that the FCC has received during the NPRM comments that talks about the interconnection battle, and notes that there are many more like that.
In reading the emails I receive, I thought this one from George pretty well sums up public concern:
Netflix versus Verizon: Is Verizon abusing Net Neutrality and causing Netflix picture quality to be degraded by “throttling” transmission speeds? Who is at fault here? The consumer is the one suffering! What can you do?
We don’t know the answers and we are not suggesting that any company is at fault. But George has gone to the heart of the matter: what is going on and what can the FCC do on behalf of consumers? Consumers pay their ISP and they pay content providers like Hulu, Netflix or Amazon. Then when they don’t get good service they wonder what is going on. I have experienced these problems myself and know how exasperating it can be.
Consumers must get what they pay for. As the consumer’s representative we need to know what is going on. I have therefore directed the Commission staff to obtain the information we need to understand precisely what is happening in order to understand whether consumers are being harmed. Recently, at my direction, Commission staff has begun requesting information from ISPs and content providers. We have received the agreements between Comcast and Netflix and Verizon and Netflix. We are currently in the process of asking for others.
To be clear, what we are doing right now is collecting information, not regulating. We are looking under the hood. Consumers want transparency. They want answers. And so do I.
That sounds good, but we’ll see what actually comes of it. The fact that Wheeler has tried hard to separate interconnection from net neutrality hasn’t been particularly encouraging. The personable “I’ve experienced these problems myself” is nice, but it means little if the FCC doesn’t actually realize what’s going on here. Also, the quote at the end about transparency also sounds good, but we’ll have to see if the FCC actually lives up to it and shares the details or keeps the whole process secret.