Pai Wants Netflix Caching Info

Says Netflix Hasn't Sufficiently Refuted Charge It Was Trying To Impede Open Video Streaming
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FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai publicly called out Netflix Friday (Jan. 16) for not ponying up enough info to disprove the allegation that it targeted encryption to ISPs that had installed open caching systems.

That came after some back and forth between the commissioner and the online video distributor over allegations Netflix was trying to undermine the development of open standards for video streaming.

Netflix said Friday in a statement that it had given Commissioner Pai his answers and suggested he was unhappy because he did not like them.

"We have responded to all of Commissioner Pai's questions," said a company spokesperson. "He appears to be targeting us because he disagrees with our Open Internet advocacy, not because of our efforts to protect member privacy."

Not so, said Chief of Staff Matthew Berry. "Netflix knows that it has not responded to all of our questions," he told Multichannel News. "Indeed, we told the company that it had failed to answer certain questions and asked them again.  But it nonetheless refused to provide us with any additional information.  If Netflix wants to disprove the allegation that they rolled out their latest encryption standards in a manner that targeted IPS using open caching appliances, all the company has to do is provide us with the information we’ve asked for.  We are perplexed by why they reneged on their commitment to do so.”         

Back in December, in a letter to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Pai cited articles reporting that Netflix had chosen not to participate in developing open standards for streaming video and had at least "tested" measures that would "undermine" that effort.

At the time, he said he was specifically concerned about suggestions Netflix has impeded open caching software. "In other words," he said, "if standards collectively agreed upon by much of the industry cannot identify and correctly route Netflix traffic, those standards ultimately are unlikely to be of much benefit to digital video customers."

He also pointed to Netflix's Open Connect program of giving ISPs resident proprietary caching devices, rather than open caching versions, to help handle its video traffic load (which can account for a third of Internet traffic). "If ISPs were to install open caching appliances throughout their networks, all video content providers--including Netflix--could compete on a level playing field. If, however, ISPs were to install Netflix's proprietary caching appliance instead, Netflix's videos would run the equivalent of a 100-yard dash while its competitors' videos would have to run a marathon."

In a statement posted on the FCC's home page Friday, Pai said he had been surprised last year to hear those allegations.

"I asked Netflix to respond to these allegations, with a specific focus on whether the company had changed its streaming protocols where open caching was used in a way that impeded open caching software from correctly identifying and caching Netflix traffic," he said.

He said he had had discussions with the company that were initially productive. "I learned that Netflix began encrypting URLs at some point in 2014. Moreover, the company indicated that it was contemplating making additional changes in the near future to its encryption practices. Netflix did not deny that these actions could impede the operation of open caching software, but contended that its motive was to protect its customers’ privacy, not to undermine open video standards," he said.

Pai says the company agreed to submit information to demonstrate that it had not rolled out the new encryption protocols "by first targeting those ISPs that had installed open caching appliances."

Pai says it has been a month and Netflix has not delivered that info, including his request for data on which ISPs were targeted on what dates. "[T]he company refused to turn it over," he said. "I am disappointed and perplexed by this decision. If Netflix did not target those ISPs using open caching, why would it withhold information that would disprove this allegation? I hope that the company will reconsider its position and supply the facts that would resolve this matter once and for all."

He suggested there was some inconsistency in Netflix's position on an open Internet and its actions in terms of an open caching system. 

"[I]f a company asks the FCC to impose public utility-style regulation on every broadband provider in the country in the name of preserving the open Internet but then selectively targets open video standards to secure a competitive advantage over its rivals, it should be called to account," he said.