Networks

Netflix Starts a New Blame Game With Internet Providers Over Sluggish Videos


Netflix wants it customers to know that their Internet service providers are responsible for their slow-loading entertainment.

A screenshot posted on Twitter by a customer, Vox Media’s Yuri Victor, showed a buffering Netflix page with an apparently new explanation for this long-running problem: “The Verizon network is crowded right now,” Netflix informs impatient subscribers to its streaming videos.

“We are experimenting with ways to alert customers that their Netflix experience is impacted by congestion on an ISP’s network so they are aware of what’s causing their degraded experience,” said Joris Evers, a spokesman for Netflix. The company doesn’t intend any suggestion that Verizon was deliberately targeting Netflix’s traffic for unfavorable treatment.

Netflix’s relationship with ISPs like Verizon has become a contentious topic in recent months. The streaming-video company clearly wants to negotiate in the press as it pushes for better deals with Internet vendors and tougher restrictions on how traffic is treated as it flows through their networks. The explanatory notice from Netflix is particularly interesting because Verizon is one of the companies that Netflix recently agreed to pay for a more direct network connection—and presumably better experiences for Netflix users.

Google also recently began giving customers information about the speed of their Internet service providers. This was interpreted as another company shaming the providers for slow service, although a Google spokesman said that wasn’t the point. Unlike Netflix, Google isn’t posting monthly rankings showing the relative speed of ISPs. Nor has the company been as vocal about the technical and regulatory issues surrounding the relationships between content companies and ISPs.

Of course, a note pointing out that someone can’t watch a video because the network is congested isn’t exactly actionable information. Most people have relatively few choices when it comes how they get their Internet service. And broadband providers actually cite their own network congestion as exactly the reason they should be allowed to come up with cleverer ways to make traffic hogs like Netflix foot part of the bill.

This is all a prelude to the upcoming Federal Communications Commission regulations on net neutrality. Netflix wants as much public resentment towards ISPs as possible, which could force regulators conversant with ideas like “paid prioritization,”"content delivery networks,” and “the last mile” to see Netflix sympathetically while making new rules.

The question is: How much more can people really hate the companies that carry the Internet into their homes? Time Warner Cable and Comcast rank worst and second-worst in the American Customer Satisfaction Index. People are probably blaming their ISPs for everything that irks them online, whether Netflix reminds them to or not.

Brustein is a writer for Businessweek.com in New York.

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