In its ongoing battle with Internet service providers over who should bear the burden of Netflix’s massive bandwidth usage, the big red video-streaming company is growing ever more bold: Netflix is now using its app to tell customers their ISP’s network stinks, and Verizon isn’t happy about it. The kerfuffle started earlier this week when Vox Media’s Yuri Victor tweeted an image of a new warning message that Netflix displayed on his laptop when his video stream stalled. “The Verizon network is crowded right now,” Netflix complained, a not-so-subtle way of saying, “It’s not us, it’s them.”
As Quartz reports, Verizon wasted no time in replying, “Nuh-uh.” The company maintains that the problem isn’t within its own network, but rather with the interconnects that Netflix uses to get data into Verizon’s network in the first place. This is probably true—an excellent CNET article recently outlined how this complicated system works—but it’s a distinction that means little to customers, and it doesn’t exactly absolve Verizon of responsibility. Netflix has actually already paid Verizon a fee (or a ransom, depending on your viewpoint) to have its data go through a more direct “pipe,” but that fast lane is still in the works. So in the meantime, Verizon is inviting Netflix not only to stuff it but also to create a mountain of paperwork as punishment for besmirching the heretofore-spotless Verizon name:
Verizon demands that Netflix immediately cease and desist from providing any such further “notices” to users of the Verizon network. We further demand that within five days from the date of this letter that Netflix provide Verizon with any and all evidence and documentation that it possesses substantiating Netflix’s assertion to Mr. Yuri Victor that his experience in viewing a Netflix video was solely attributable to the Verizon network, and that Netflix also provide a list of all Netflix customers on the Verizon network to whom Netflix has delivered such messages with the date and time that each such message was displayed for each user and the purported substantiation for it. Failure to provide this information may lead us to pursue legal remedies, and Verizon reserves all rights in that regard.
Netflix was unimpressed with this outlandish request and issued a brief reply with one hell of an ominous closer:
This is about consumers not getting what they paid for from their broadband provider. We are trying to provide more transparency, just like we do with the Netflix ISP Speed Index, and Verizon is trying to shut down that discussion.
We are testing ways to let consumers know how their Netflix experience is being affected by congestion on their broadband provider’s network. At present, we are testing in the U.S. in areas serviced by many broadband providers. This test started in early May and it is ongoing.
Our test continues.
The whole affair is a mess, but for anyone who has ever called their Internet provider’s tech support and run into the maddening “the problem must be on your end” response, it’s somewhat satisfying to see these two companies act out essentially the same argument on a public stage. Soon, Verizon’s vice president of public relations will be asking Netflix if it tried unplugging its movie-streaming modem and plugging it back in again, and Netflix’s legal team will issue a statement reading, “Yes, of course we tried that.” Then Verizon will have Netflix go ahead and try restarting the modem anyway.