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Netflix Says It Really Didn't Want to Cut That Traffic Deal With Comcast

But Verizon, AT&T and other big pipe owners may get similar deals, anyway.

Shutterstock/Sarah Frier Photography
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Remember last month, when Netflix and Comcast signed a deal to guarantee fast delivery of the video service’s streams to the cable company’s customers?

That’s exactly the kind of deal Netflix shouldn’t have to sign, says Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

That’s the gist of the argument Hastings makes in an essay he has posted on his company’s blog, titled “Internet Tolls And The Case For Strong Net Neutrality.”

In the essay, which the company has also filed with the Federal Communications Commission as that agency prepares to create new net neutrality regulations, Hastings says that “interconnection” deals, like the one he signed last month, shouldn’t be necessary to ensure that his stuff — or anyone else’s — gets to broadband customers.

Hastings’s essay also spells out the fact that his company is now paying Comcast directly to connect with its pipes — something people at both companies acknowledged privately but wouldn’t say out loud last month.

Earlier this month, Netflix CFO David Wells told investors that the Comcast deal wouldn’t have any impact on his company’s financials, but said the company was still “philosophically” opposed to the idea. Hastings expands on that theme in his essay:

“If this kind of leverage is effective against Netflix, which is pretty large, imagine the plight of smaller services today and in the future …” he writes. “Without strong net neutrality, big ISPs can demand potentially escalating fees for the interconnection required to deliver high quality service.”

That said, Hastings doesn’t seem to be backing out of his deal. And his comments appear to leave the door open for other big broadband players, such as AT&T and Verizon, who’ve said they want something similar:

“Netflix believes strong net neutrality is critical, but in the near term we will in cases pay the toll to the powerful ISPs to protect our consumer experience. When we do so, we don’t pay for priority access against competitors, just for interconnection. A few weeks ago, we agreed to pay Comcast and our members are now getting a good experience again. Comcast has been an industry leader in supporting weak net neutrality, and we hope they’ll support strong net neutrality as well.”

Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is an investor in Re/code. I’ve asked them for comment.

Update: Here’s a statement from Comcast’s David Cohen, who oversees the company’s approach to regulators, among other duties:

“There has been no company that has had a stronger commitment to openness of the Internet than Comcast. We supported the FCC’s Open Internet rules because they struck the appropriate balance between consumer protection and reasonable network management rights for ISPs. We are now the only ISP in the country that is bound by them.

“The Open Internet rules never were designed to deal with peering and Internet interconnection, which have been an essential part of the growth of the Internet for two decades. Providers like Netflix have always paid for their interconnection to the Internet and have always had ample options to ensure that their customers receive an optimal performance through all ISPs. We are happy that Comcast and Netflix were able to reach an amicable, market-based solution to our interconnection issues and believe that our agreement demonstrates the effectiveness of the market as a mechanism to deal with these matters.”

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