Comcast Tells FCC It’s the Victim and Netflix Is the Villain

Cable giant says streaming service slowed itself and pays only 'trivial' access fees

Comcast is tired of Netflix, that's for sure.

The cable giant had to answer a number of difficult questions from the Federal Communications Commission last week after Netflix objected in the strongest possible terms to a pending merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. The cable giant's answers are now available for all to see. (You can read the documents below or on Scrbid.) And one of the most talked-about entities is Netflix: Its name comes up some 179 times over the course of the document, including in the footnotes.

It's a complicated case, but Netflix's objections come down to this: Comcast and Time Warner should not be allowed to turn the Web into cable TV.

"Unsurprisingly, given their dominance in the cable television marketplace," Netflix representatives stated in a document submitted to the FCC, "the proposed merger would give Applicants the ability to turn a consumer's Internet experience into something that more closely resembles cable television. It would set up an ecosystem that calls into question what we to date have taken for granted: that a consumer who pays for connectivity to the Internet will be able to get the content she requests."

Comcast spent the bulk of its written response defending itself from those attacks. "The aggregate amount of money involved in these deals is trivial for these large firms," the company's representatives wrote. 

Comcast's massive tome appeared to include a few contradictions, most notably the cable operator's assertion that "Netflix alone…already has substantially more subscribers than Comcast will have post-transaction." That seems to suggest Netflix's business model could be compared to Comcast's, though Comcast noted elsewhere in the same document that Netflix is an "additive" service on top of other video subscriptions.

But other allegations were more serious. Consumers and media both blamed Comcast for suddenly slow Netflix speeds during negotiations between the two companies. Yet Comcast blames Netflix, saying the service "unilaterally decided to degrade that performance in a transparent effort to force Comcast to provide Netflix with free interconnection services." Netflix, Comcast said, rested safe in the knowledge that consumers always blame the cable company.

"The Netflix incident," as Comcast has termed it, has become a focal point of the network's claims of unfair treatment by its business partners. As the public portion of this process continues, it's becoming easier to understand the ins and outs of contemporary data traffic, although cures for the industry's growing pains are anything but clear.

Comcast Netflix by Eriq Gardner