FCC Republican: Netflix's throttling of video 'deeply disturbing'

FCC Republican: Netflix's throttling of video 'deeply disturbing'
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Netflix’s acknowledgment that it throttles its video over mobile networks is “deeply disturbing,” a Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said Tuesday. 

The company’s failure to inform consumers of that throttling, which reduces video quality, could warrant investigations from Congress or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said.  

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“There is no way to sugarcoat it,” O’Rielly said during a speech at the American Action Forum. “The news is deeply disturbing and justly generates calls for government and maybe even congressional investigations."

Still, O’Rielly said the video throttling did not violate the FCC's net neutrality rules.

"While the FTC may have grounds to scrutinize Netflix video throttling, let’s accept the factual point that Netflix never violated the commission’s net neutrality rules.”

Last week, it was revealed that Netflix slows the download speed of its streaming video over mobile networks like Verizon and AT&T. The company said it has taken this action, which degrades video quality, for at least five years in order to help customers stay below their monthly data caps imposed by wireless providers. 

While the conduct does not violate net neutrality, O’Rielly said the FCC should still investigate whether the company lied to the agency. 

Netflix was a major participant in the net neutrality rule making, and its disputes with Internet service providers helped sway the commission. 

“Certainly Netflix made repeated accusations of wrongdoing by ISPs and all the while knowing that its own practices were the cause of consumer video downgrading,” O’Rielly said. “I would suggest that we review all of the comments filed by Netflix to see if there has been any violation of the commission rules.”

He added: “These revelations call into question the entire foundation and rationale for the net neutrality decision.” 

O’Rielly and the FCC's other Republican commissioner, Ajit Pai, voted against the net neutrality rules.

The penalty for providing inaccurate statements to the commission can range from a simple warning letter to being barred from participating in future rule making. 

The FCC approved strong net neutrality rules over Republican objections that would make sure Internet service providers do not block, throttle or create paid fast lanes for certain Internet traffic. 

The regulations are meant to protect customers and Web companies like Netflix that create content. Because of that, the rules only apply to Internet service providers like Comcast or Verizon that haul Internet traffic between users. 

Netflix lobbied hard for the FCC rules, particularly in favor of regulations that cover interconnection points. That is the point where traffic is transferred from the backbone of the Internet to the last mile, where it is routed to customers. 

In the past, Netflix blamed Internet service providers for congestion and long buffering times when watching its video. But those disputes centered around home Internet connections, rather than mobile networks. 

Netflix did not address its past comments to the FCC. But it reiterated its point that its action is meant to protect consumers. 

"We have zero incentive to deliver a less than optimal experience to Netflix members,” the company said. “We capped our bit rate to protect consumers from unexpected overage charges due to restrictive data caps on mobile networks."

— This post was updated at 1:55 p.m. with comments from Netflix.