The CEO of Netflix blasted the nation’s largest cable Internet provider on Sunday for violating the principles of net neutrality by exempting its own online video service from bandwidth caps it recently imposed on other Internet usage.
The criticism from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings seems to be in line with a Raw Story report in March, which pointed to Comcast’s Xfinity service delivering video over what it called a “private IP network” instead of the open Internet. Netflix did not comment on that report, but the company’s CEO finally broke his silence on the issue on Sunday night.
He went on to say that he’s able to use Netflix, HBO Go, Xfinity and Hulu on his Xbox 360, but that three of those four apps count against the Comcast bandwidth cap.
“For example, if I watch last night’s SNL episode on my Xbox through the Hulu app, it eats up about one gigabyte of my cap, but if I watch that same episode through the Xfinity Xbox app, it doesn’t use up my cap at all,” Hastings explained.
“The same device, the same IP address, the same wifi, the same internet connection, but totally different cap treatment,” he added. “In what way is this neutral?”
It’s not the first time Comcast has used its bandwidth resources to hurt a competitor and enrich itself: Netflix partner Level 3 was forced into paying a reoccurring fee in 2010 to “transmit Internet online movies and other content to Comcast’s customers who request such content.” They agreed under protest, saying their highest priority was averting service interruptions, which Comcast threatened if Level 3 did not pay up.
Critics compared the move to extortion and blackmail, but it was perfectly legal because no regulations at the time had addressed network operators charging tolls or blocking content. Now that those rules are solidified and “public Internet” traffic must be treated equally, network owners have been eyeing ways to further monetize their bandwidth resources. More than 56 percent of U.S. broadband Internet connections have become bandwidth capped in recent years, largely at the urging of the content industries, which sees excessive bandwidth use as a key indicator of copyright infringement activity.
By drawing a distinction between “the public Internet” and its own high bandwidth “private” network, Comcast proved its critics were right to suggest that weakened neutrality rules would lead to the creation of “super tiers,” where more bandwidth would be available to the owners, operators and, potentially, anyone who can pay enough. Appearing to be sensitive to this criticism, Comcast later removed mention of their “private” network in a customer FAQ.
Netflix, meanwhile, has recently formed its own political action committee to lobby Congress for more freedom to distribute videos across social media, placing the supporters of recent restrictive Internet regulations squarely in its sights.
While the dispute between content delivery networks may appear relatively minor to some, it is actually indicative of a broader fight over the free and open Internet. The brewing dispute between cable providers and Netflix, along with many bandwidth intensive services, is leading to a “Balkanization” of the Internet, according to Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
Corporations like Apple, Facebook and Comcast could force greater separation between the open Internet and so-called “walled gardens” where private networks operate based upon their own set of rules and away from the prying eyes of search engines.
But that’s just the beginning: governments, Brin said, are looking to put down popular uprisings driven by widespread Internet access, and they’re becoming increasingly successful at “put[ting] the genie back in the bottle.” Much like China, Iran and, increasingly, the U.S., other countries are also looking at harsh domestic Internet regulations, and even radical “solutions” like national networks that only connect to certain websites or services.
“I am more worried than I have been in the past,” Brin said. “It’s scary.”
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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