US authorities to probe Netflix ISP streaming issues


The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is to look into why Netflix customers are not always able to watch streamed content without interruption.

In a statement on Friday, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said the organisation would collect information on how traffic from the streaming service was handled by ISP Verizon during negotiations between the two firms.

"To be clear, what we are doing right now is collecting information, not regulating," Wheeler said. "We are looking under the hood. Consumers want transparency. They want answers. And so do I."

He added the FCC has received copies of agreements Netflix made with Verizon and fellow ISP Comcast. These agreements have put a strain on relationships between Netflix and the ISPs, it is claimed.

Following a deal with Comcast in February to ensure there was enough bandwidth for Netflix customers, its chief executive Reed Hastings said ISPs were "extracting a toll because they can."

Netflix made a deal with Verizon, and even notified subscribers if it thought the ISP was to blame for poor download speeds. These messages were removed after Verizon threatened legal action.

In response, Verizon and Comcast alleged Hastings was misleading consumers and trying to pass the cost of Netflix's video traffic demands onto all of their customers, even non-Netflix subscribers.

Wheeler said the situation merited scrutiny. "Consumers pay their ISP and pay content providers like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon," Wheeler said.

"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."

In a statement, Comcast welcomed the move by the FCC.

"We welcome the Chairman's attention to these important issues in the internet ecosystem. Internet traffic exchange on the backbone is part of ensuring that bits flow freely and efficiently and all actors across the system have a shared responsibility to preserve the smooth functioning and highly competitive backbone interconnection market," Sena Fizmaurice, Comcast's vice president of government communications, said in a statement.

"We welcome this review which will allow the Commission full transparency into the entire Internet backbone ecosystem and enable full education as to how this market works."

Netflix also welcomed the move. "Americans deserve to get the speed and quality of internet access they pay for," a spokesman said.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.