Tech Darling Cynically Manipulated Net Neutrality Debate to Ban What It Did in Secret

WASHINGTON D.C. —­­  Yesterday, Netflix admitted the company has long been throttling its traffic for AT&T and Verizon customers without their knowledge or consent: “to protect our members from overage charges when they exceed mobile data caps, our default bitrate for viewing over mobile networks has been capped globally at 600 kilobits per second. It’s about striking a balance that ensures a good streaming experience while avoiding unplanned fines from mobile providers.”

Failing to disclose this practice to consumers is bad enough, but Netflix’s political hypocrisy is astounding,” said Berin Szoka, President of TechFreedom, which announced that it would award the company its first annual Tech Hypo(crite) award.

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Two years ago, Netflix led the fight to get the FCC to require transparency about precisely such practices, and to ban throttling as inherently harmful. It also claimed that Comcast was effectively throttling Netflix traffic simply by failing to offer unlimited, free interconnection to Netflix — something companies like Netflix have always had to pay for. With the help of comedian John Oliver, Netflix rallied an angry mob that ultimately succeeded in getting President Obama to tell the FCC to dramatically expand ‘net neutrality’ to include interconnection — saying that throttling should be defined “from a consumer’s perspective,” regardless of who was doing it or how it worked.

“It turns out Netflix was really saying ‘Net neutrality for thee, but not for me,’” continued Szoka. “The only question is whether Netflix was throttling user traffic at the time, or if it only decided to do so later. To be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Netflix’s throttling. ‘Throttling’ video speeds may sound scary, but it can benefit consumers for the very reasons Netflix cites today. So why didn’t Netflix just disclose the practice? Was Netflix afraid the angry mob it helped create would turn on it? And where was its talk of ‘striking a balance that ensures a good streaming experience’ when it was lobbying the FCC to ban throttling outright?”

The big question here is why the FCC didn’t figure this out on its own,” concluded Szoka. “Are our new Internet cops so clueless that they failed to notice the difference between Netflix speeds on various mobile networks? Are they so blinded by their preconceived narrative — ‘Must regulate ISPs, must protect Netflix!’ — that they simply failed to ask the question? Or did they know, but look the other way — while picking winners and losers in how they applied their ‘strong net neutrality’ rules? At a minimum, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is guilty of gross incompetence. But if he actually knew about Netflix’s hypocrisy and covered it up, he doesn’t just deserve a Tech Hypo award of his own, he deserves to be removed from office.”

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Find this release, with additional background material on the Tech Policy Corner.

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