Netflix peering dispute with Verizon, Comcast intentional, pundit says

Subscription video on demand provider Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) may have intentionally caused slowdowns of its own video stream during its well-publicized disputes with Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA), the director of a conservative technology organization said.

Fred Campbell, director of the Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology and a former chief of the FCC's Wireless Bureau, wrote in a blog post Tuesday that Netflix "used its subscribers in a Machiavellian game of regulatory chess designed to win favorable Internet regulations."

Specifically, Campbell said, the SVOD service "knowingly slowed its video streaming service with the intention of blaming Internet service providers (ISPs)."

According to the post, Netflix admitted it did so in a filing with the FCC opposing the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger. Campbell linked to an amended comment from Netflix that changed wording in an Aug. 25 filing. The comment was amended to read "Globally, Netflix delivers its traffic without payment to 99 percent of terminating access networks."

Campbell accused Netflix of holding its subscribers hostage by deliberately choosing settlement-free peering connections that slowed down its streaming data as it crossed onto last-mile networks owned by Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner Cable. Netflix has since signed agreements with all four ISPs and is working to optimize its connections with them, according to recent statements. 

It's similar to an argument Verizon put forth in July. "While the links chosen by Netflix were congested (congestion occurs when use approaches or reaches 100% capacity during peak usage periods), the links from other transit providers (carrying non-Netflix traffic) to Verizon's network did not experience congestion and were performing fine," said David Young, VP of federal regulatory affairs for Verizon, in a blog post at the time.

A Netflix spokeswoman contacted by FierceOnlineVideo said the company had no comment on Campbell's assertions. "Our filing speaks for itself," she said.

Meanwhile, Netflix's August speed index showed that its video streams across Verizon's FiOS network sped up, averaging 2.41 Mbps.

Whether Netflix intentionally used slower peering connections is fairly specious thinking. Level 3 Communications, which along with Cogent Communications transports Netflix's data, argued in early July that Verizon was the bad guy in the slowdown scenario, causing problems by failing to make simple upgrades to its routers.

In a move unrelated to the former FCC official's assertions, the provider symbolically slowed down (meaning, didn't actually slow) its streaming feed on Sept. 10 as a participant in Internet Slowdown Day, a nationwide protest led by net neutrality advocates including providers like Vimeo, Foursquare, Etsy and Mozilla.

Updated Sept. 17 to clarify Netflix's role in Internet Slowdown Day.

For more:
- see this blog post 
- and the FCC filing

Related articles:
Netflix slows down to protest FCC's net neutrality proposal
Feud over? Verizon FiOS climbs Netflix speed chart
Netflix adds Time Warner Cable to its pay-for-faster-play list