FCC's Pai asks Netflix if it only wants net neutrality for itself

Calls for net neutrality clash with reports of how Netflix wants to treat its own video, the commissioner says

Netflix is pushing for a level Internet playing field while apparently looking for ways to give its own video a fast lane, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai says.

In a letter to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings on Tuesday, Pai questioned how Netflix could advocate strong net neutrality regulations while rebuffing an effort to develop open standards for video streaming. Work that Netflix reportedly may be doing on its own video delivery system might give it an advantage over other content providers, Pai wrote.

Netflix relies on carriers, cable companies and other ISPs (Internet service providers) to get its video service to consumers. A major focus of the debate over net neutrality is whether network owners should be able to charge Internet companies like Netflix to make sure their services run reliably over the network. Netflix advocates regulating broadband companies as utilities under Title II of the Communications Act, the same strong step for net neutrality that President Barack Obama has called for. Pai, a Republican, opposes the Title II approach.

Pai wants Netflix to reconcile its language on net neutrality with the fact that it's not joining in work on an open standard for better video streaming. Last month, major U.S. cable operators and Cisco Systems formed the Video Streaming Alliance along with Ustream, Yahoo and some other U.S. and international service providers. The group said it would define specifications for streaming and caching video more efficiently to keep up with growing demand by viewers. Netflix said it did not plan to join the group.

Pai pointedly questioned Netflix on so-called open caching, designed to cache any type of video on equipment close to consumers' homes so it doesn't have to traverse the whole network. He said Netflix had changed its streaming protocols to undermine open caching software and might be developing its own caching technology.

"If ISPs were to install open caching appliances throughout their networks, all video content providers -- including Netflix -- could compete on a level playing field," Pai wrote. "If, however, ISPs were to install Netflix's proprietary caching appliance instead, Netflix's videos would run the equivalent of a 100-yard dash while its competitors' videos would have to run a marathon."

Pai asked Netflix to respond to the allegations by Dec. 16. Netflix declined to comment for this story.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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IDG News Service
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