FCC to probe interconnection deals between Internet providers, websites

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is going to review the deals that Internet providers, such as Comcast, make with websites like Netflix to deliver their Internet traffic.

During the agency’s June open meeting on Friday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that the agency is collecting information about these “interconnection” or “peering” deals.

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“Consumers want transparency, they want answers, and so do I,” he said, adding that the agency is “not suggesting that anybody is at fault.”

“What we’re doing right now is collecting information, not regulating. We’re looking under the hood.”

These interconnection agreements came under scrutiny earlier this year when bandwidth-heavy Netflix reached deals with Comcast and Verizon to bypass the traditionally used middleman and directly connect to the Internet providers’ servers to boost the video streaming speed and quality for Netflix subscribers.

Netflix publicly criticized the deals it signed, saying the company was forced to sign the direct interconnection deals to avoid congestion on the Internet providers’ networks.

But the Internet providers fought back, saying that Netflix was responsible for choosing how its traffic gets delivered to the Internet providers’ subscribers.

Wheeler said the disputes between Netflix and Comcast and Verizon “have highlighted this issue.”

He pointed to 19,000 comments filed at the FCC complaining about Internet providers supposedly “throttling” traffic to make Netflix videos load slowly. 

“Consumers need to understand what is occurring when the Internet service they pay for does not adequately deliver the content they desire, especially when that content is also paid for,” Wheeler said.

“Consumers must get what they pay for.”

Public interest groups have called on the FCC to investigate these peering deals as it attempts to rewrite its net neutrality rules, which kept Internet providers from blocking or slowing access to certain websites before they were struck down by a federal court earlier this year.

While Wheeler raised some questions about the deals in the agency’s proceeding regarding the net neutrality rules, he has repeatedly said that peering is not a net neutrality issue, a distinction he maintained Friday.

The “last-mile” connections addressed by the net neutrality rules and peering deals “are driven by different technological realities, perhaps different economic realities, and what we’re trying to do is get to the bottom of that,” he said.

Wheeler said that FCC staff already has information on the deals between Netflix and Comcast and Verizon.

“We are currently in the process of asking for others,” he said.