Hastings: Possible Net-Neutrality Changes ‘Unfortunate’

But Netflix chief says they would have little effect on SVOD pioneer

Netflix chairman and CEO Reed Hastings told CNBC he believes the proposed unraveling of federal net-neutrality regulations would be “unfortunate,” but are unlikely to have a big impact on the streaming video giant.

President Trump and Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai have proposed rolling back net-neutrality rules that formally state that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.

Critics of net neutrality say competition already ensures that and providers should be allowed to manage their own networks. Earlier this month the FCC voted to begin the process of eliminating the Title II classification of ISPs, which some have said hampers investment in broadband infrastructure. 

“We’ll see if they do change the rules,” Hastings told CNBC's Squawk Alley ahead of his panel discussion at the Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. Wednesday. “That would be unfortunate but it’s probably going to happen. I don’t think it will be a big deal. I think the principles of net neutrality are very well accepted by all the large ISPs around the world, not just in the U.S. In many countries we don’t have net-neutrality laws, but we don’t have problems either.”

Those comments are a departure from Hasting’s stance just a few years ago, when he claimed that without net neutrality, content providers would be forced to pay a toll to ISPs to ensure their content wasn’t impeded. Netflix reluctantly agreed to pay such a toll to Comcast in 2014.

Hastings said that net neutrality remains very important, but there is a consensus among ISPs worldwide to follow those rules. But he conceded that small providers would be affected more aversely.

“We’re one of the largest suppliers of streaming, so we are probably relatively well insulated," Hastings said. "The real impact around net neutrality would be around small firms – the Netflix of 10 years ago. It is super important for the society. But even if they do unwind the Title II rules, my guess would be that the net-neutrality principles are still followed."