The FCC is going to scrutinize Netflix’s deals with Comcast, Verizon — and others, too


U.S. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler testifies before the House Communications and Technology panel on Capitol Hill in Washington December 12, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Netflix's continued dispute with Internet providers underscores that we can't declare a winner in the debate without more information about what Netflix is paying Comcast and Verizon to boost customers' streaming speeds, whether that's causing people's bills to rise, and who actually has the leverage in these relationships.

On Friday, the Federal Communications Commission said it's going to look more closely at those deals. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said he had received copies of the agreements involving Netflix, Comcast and Verizon and would be asking other content companies, perhaps such as Google, to provide their own information about the paid deals they've struck with ISPs, too.

"We are looking under the hood," said Wheeler in a statement.

Netflix's agreements have been controversial; the company complains that it shouldn't have to pay ISPs directly to improve consumers' streaming speeds. Comcast and Verizon argue that Netflix should bear the cost of the upgrades the ISPs must make to accommodate Netflix's rising traffic levels.

ISP defenders say that "paid peering" is a common feature in the part of the Internet that carries data from its originating source, like Netflix, to the doorstep of broadband providers charged with carrying that data to its final destination — your computer or tablet. Despite that, Netflix says that most of its peering agreements involve no money changing hands.

In a statement, Comcast said it welcomed the probe.

We have long published our peering policies … and are open to discussions about further disclosures," the company said. "We also have voluntarily shared a vast array of information about our peering and interconnection practices with the FCC."

Wheeler wants to get to the bottom of this. And although he isn't about to regulate this part of the Web, which is considered separate from net neutrality because it doesn't have to do with "last-mile" connections to the home, he still intends to do some fact-finding.

"We are making inquiries across the board," he told reporters Friday.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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