V.P. of Content Delivery at Netflix Warns Against Online Fast Lanes

Ken Florance is vice president of content delivery at Netflix. He posted a blog post 01/05/2015 calling out against ‘internet fast lanes’, often confused with ‘net neutrality’, a misconception. He writes:

In the ongoing discussion about net neutrality, there’s been quite a bit of confusion about so-called fast lanes on the Internet. I’d like to spend a few moments clarifying what these fast lanes are and why they are not a good thing. While some media reports have suggested otherwise, Netflix and other Internet content providers are not using fast lanes to deliver their content to consumers.

Last year, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed a set of net neutrality regulations that would allow broadband providers to create online fast lanes. But that proposal spurred significant pushback, including criticism by President Obama.

Many of those critics have urged the FCC to scrap Wheeler’s original proposal and, instead, classify broadband as a utility service. Doing so would pave the way for the FCC to outlaw paid prioritization deals.

Ken / Netflix has some interesting points;

From a network architecture standpoint, fast lanes aren’t that useful if you’re managing your network effectively. From a marketing perspective, however, they might be quite useful as a way to sell “premium” access to content providers.

This creates two fundamental problems. Allowing fast lanes gives ISPs a perverse incentive to boost revenues by allowing their networks to congest. It also gives them outsize power to pick winners and losers on the Internet. Those who can’t pay for fast lanes will suffer, entrenching incumbents while undermining the innovative power of the Internet. While the largest ISPs have said they’re not interested in creating fast lanes, one need only look at how they have sought to monetize their network interconnection points to get a glimpse of the future.

It is at these points — where our traffic enters an ISPs network — where Netflix and others have been forced to pay Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner access fees to reach our mutual customers. Without those payments, ISPs allowed these connection points to congest, resulting in a poor video streaming experience for Netflix users on those networks. While Netflix was able to meet the demand for payments, we continue to believe this practice stands in contrast to an open Internet and all its promise.

Right now, there are no paid fast lanes on the Internet. That’s a good thing. A large part of the debate about net neutrality is focused on ensuring it stays that way. If ISPs are allowed to sell fast lanes, competition for various Internet sites and services will become less about the value of what’s offered and more about who can pay the most to deliver it faster. It would be the very opposite environment than the one the Internet created.