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By Brandon Ross
Jan. 16 — Netflix Inc. is alleging that Federal Communications Commissioner Ajit Pai appears to be targeting the company over changes in its video-streaming protocols to secure its customers' privacy because he doesn't agree with Netflix's Open Internet advocacy.
Pai issued a statement early Jan. 16 questioning Netflix's use of new video-streaming protocols that encrypt URLs. He said in the statement that they undermined the development of open standards for streaming video. Pai said that, although Netflix initially cooperated with his inquiries, communications broke down about a month ago because Netflix didn't produce proof that it had avoided testing encryption techniques on Internet service providers (ISPs) using open caching software, which identifies network traffic.
“We have responded to all of Commissioner Pai's questions,” a Netflix spokeswoman said later the same day in a statement. “He appears to be targeting us because he disagrees with our Open Internet advocacy, not because of our efforts to protect member privacy.”
Pai's chief of staff, Matthew Berry subsequently responded, “Netflix knows that it has not responded to all of our questions. 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.”
Pai said he learned of the streaming protocol change in 2014 and asked Netflix whether it tested it on ISPs using identifier software.
“These discussions were initially quite productive,” Pai said in his Jan. 16 statement. “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.”
According to Pai, Netflix said it hadn't tested the new protocols on the ISPs using the open caching software. However, when Pai asked for documents proving that this was the case, Netflix refused to produce them, Pai said in his statement.
“If 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,” Pai said in his statement.
“To be clear, I do not favor additional FCC regulation in this area,” Pai said in his statement.
Pai and Berry said that Netflix originally said that it would provide the documents Pai requested, but then later decided it wouldn't submit them.
“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,” Berry said in his Jan. 16 response to Netflix. “We are perplexed by why it reneged on its commitment to do so.”
This isn't a hypocritical move, Matt Wood, president of consumer advocacy group Free Press, which supports utility-style regulations for open Internet rules said.
“I don't think [Netflix] is in the wrong,” Wood told Bloomberg BNA in a phone interview Jan. 16. “I don’t think they are acting hypocritically.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Ross in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Pai's full Netflix statement is available here: http://op.bna.com/der.nsf/r?Open=kfex-9sttpr.
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