Netflix Goes to War with Verizon Over Connection Speeds

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Following its battle with Comcast over paid peering agreements, Netflix has declared war on another Internet service provider in a very public way.

The video-streaming company recently began displaying messages to customers of Verizon’s high-speed Internet service informing them that congestion on the network was to blame for slow access to Netflix’s library of on-demand movies and TV shows.

“The Verizon network is crowded right now,” the message, which was first made public by Netflix customer and journalist Yuri Victor, reads:

This rubbed Verizon the wrong way: For one, Verizon claims that Netflix is the one to blame for slow connections, not the ISP.

“Netflix relies on a panoply of content-distribution and other middle-man networks to reach its customers, trying to lower its costs as much as possible,” Verizon lawyer David Hyman wrote in a cease-and-desist letter to Netflix’s general counsel. “Netflix has been aware for some time that a few Internet middlemen have congestion issues with some IP networks and nonetheless, Netflix has chosen to continue sending its traffic over those congested routes.”

The accusations also irritate Verizon as the company recently struck a peering agreement with Netflix. The deal, which is similar to one Netflix begrudgingly made with Comcast, would allow the company to bypass those “middle-man networks” by delivering video content directly to Verizon customers.

But Verizon has admitted that it isn’t quite ready to fulfill its obligations under the deal, which means customers are still receiving poor service when they try to watch Netflix programs. In fact, Ars Technica reported on Monday that the quality of Netflix shows and movies has gotten worse, not better, since the deal was struck in late April.

According to a “speed index” released by Netflix that rates the quality of its service by ISP, Verizon ranks below smaller, regional ISPs like CenturyLink, Bright House Networks and Suddenlink Communications.

“We can’t just snap our fingers and the network is upgraded,” Verizon executive David Young told CNET. “We need new facilities. We have to do the equipment engineering. Build it and test it. We are doing all of that right now. And it should be completed during this year…so who is at fault is really a moot point.”

That’s not how Netflix sees things: The company has been extremely — and publicly — critical of ISPs for much of the last year, injecting itself in the middle of the ongoing network neutrality debate. Even though some have claimed, from a technical standpoint, that the issue between Netflix and the ISPs wouldn’t be solved under net neutrality, and even though large ISPs have admitted themselves to arranging thousands of “peering agreements” with content providers over the past several years, Netflix has found itself successful in generating mainstream conversation on the topic of network neutrality, and many see Netflix as an ally to fair broadband rules across the board.

As for the messages Netflix has been sending out to Verizon customers: Late Monday the company agreed to stop displaying them when content is buffering. But it also dispelled the notion that it is to blame for subpar video quality (“Netflix does not purposely select congested routes,” a spokesperson said in response to Verizon’s letter), indicating the fight between Netflix and the country’s largest ISPs is far from over.

Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine

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