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Comcast Says Netflix Slowed Down Its Own Streams (Updated)

The war of words between the two partners -- partners! -- really heats up.

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.

A couple days after Netflix and Comcast fought in public, the two companies, who are supposed to be partners, are at it again.

Three days after Netflix CEO Reed Hastings publicly opposed Comcast’s planned acquisition of/merger with Time Warner Cable, one of his lieutenants has done the same thing: Ken Florance, the company’s vice president of content delivery, published a blog post complaining about the way Comcast treated its streams before Netflix agreed to a commercial deal in February.

And not surprisingly, Comcast* has responded with its own blog post, accusing Netflix of being less than honest about its motives.

Normally at this point we would note that all this makes for entertaining blog reading, and leave it that. But Comcast has upped the ante by accusing Netflix of something extraordinary: The cable company says the video company sabotaged its own streams prior to the transit deal the two companies reached earlier this year.

Here’s what Comcast wrote in its post: “As at least one independent commentator has pointed out, it was not Comcast that was creating viewability issues for Netflix customers, it was Netflix’s commercial transit decisions that created these issues.”

That’s a reference to this March 21 post by industry analyst Dan Rayburn, where Rayburn said that Netflix had done “stuff they have done behind the scenes to make matters worse” — namely, sending their traffic to Cogent, a broadband provider that worked as a middleman between Comcast and Netflix, even though Cogent didn’t have the capacity to handle Netflix’s traffic.

“In reality, the blame could fall on Netflix for continuing to send traffic over a link they know is congested, when alternatives exist in the market,” he wrote.

Rayburn’s argument echoes one that Comcast officials have made in private, but haven’t said publicly before.

Now it’s out there, and it’s kind of amazing: If the accusation is true, it means that Netflix shortchanged some of its customers, for reasons that aren’t quite clear. If it’s not, it means that Comcast, which has to be on its best behavior as it tries to get the federal government to bless its Time Warner Cable deal, has made a damning charge in public that it can’t back up.

Who’s writing the next post?

UPDATE: Here’s a response to Comcast’s response from Jonathan Friedland, Netflix’s chief communications officer:

“As we said in our blog post, Comcast allowed its links to the multiple Internet transit providers, including Level3 XO, Cogent, and Tata to clog up. These are big transit providers we use to reach multiple ISPs without issue. It is also contrary to the assertion made by Comcast yesterday that the poor customer service they deliver was a result of Netflix overloading a single transit provider.

The following chart shows what happened when we began to pay Comcast directly. It is pretty self explanatory:”

* Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is an investor in Revere Digital, the parent company of Re/code.

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