Netflix: We’ll pay Comcast’s ransom, but we shouldn’t have to


(Nathaniel E. Bell/ Netflix via AP)

Netflix may have agreed to pay Comcast in exchange for giving users a smoother viewing experience. But it's still arguing that it shouldn't have to.

In a blog post Thursday, Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings called Comcast's interconnection fees an "arbitrary tax" on content providers, one that could harm the Web. Drawing comparisons to the debate over net neutrality, Hastings said that ISPs send Internet traffic to each other all the time for free but demand payment from third-party content companies just because they can.

"They effectively control access to millions of consumers," wrote Hastings, "and are willing to sacrifice the interests of their own customers to press Netflix and others to pay."

It's important to point out that the issue at stake, peering and interconnection, was not formally recognized as a net neutrality issue by the Federal Communications Commission when it rolled out its controversial net neutrality order in 2010 (which has since been partially struck by a federal court). Paid peering is growing more common these days in the industry.

Nevertheless, Hastings argues that it's unfair when Internet providers use their gatekeeper position as a way to extract concessions from content providers.

"Comcast has been an industry leader in supporting weak net neutrality, and we hope they’ll support strong net neutrality as well," Hastings wrote.

For its part, Comcast has committed to the original net neutrality rules laid out by the FCC, even though the commission lost its battle in court. Comcast accepted the obligations several years ago when it was attempting to secure a merger with NBC Universal.

"There has been no company that has had a stronger commitment to openness of the Internet than Comcast," the company said in a statement. "We are happy that Comcast and Netflix were able to reach an amicable, market-based solution to our interconnection issues."

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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