Most every Netflix user knows the pain of settling in to watch a movie or a few dozen episodes of their favorite show, only to be greeted with a message announcing the service’s inability to stream the content in a timely manner—thus leaving the subscriber with no choice but to stare helplessly at their screen until the temptation to crack open a book or speak with a loved one becomes unbearable. The slowdown has been especially pronounced in recent months, particularly for Netflix subscribers who use Comcast or Verizon. The three companies have taken to publicly blaming each other for delays, with Netflix accusing Comcast and Verizon of purposefully slowing down content delivery until Netflix pays additional fees, and the telecom giants arguing that Netflix should help cover the costs of transmitting its massive amounts of video content to consumers. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has thus far stayed above the fray, but it’s now announced its intention to look into who’s at fault, hopefully leading to a day in the near future when people can just stream Orange Is The New Black in peace, damn it.
Specifically, the FCC will take a close look at Netflix’s interconnection agreements, deals the company struck with Comcast and Verizon that allow Netflix to transmit its content directly to ISPs without having to go through any intermediaries. It will also look at similar agreements made between a wide variety of companies across the Internet. Very little is known about these deals, beyond the fact that they haven’t really solved the slowdown problem. But FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is determined to get to the bottom of the issue. “I have experienced these problems myself and know how exasperating it can be,” Wheeler said with the indignation of a man who just wants to spend a weekend marathoning Cheers. “The bottom line is that consumers need to understand what is occurring when the Internet service they’ve paid for does not adequately deliver the content they desire.”
Wheeler cautioned that the FCC is currently only gathering information on interconnection agreements, so it’s unclear when—or even if—the investigation will yield any new regulations. For their part, Netflix, Comcast, and Verizon have all agreed to cooperate with the FCC’s review. It remains to be seen whether they’ll continue to play nice for its duration, or if Netflix will revive its practice of calling out Verizon by name whenever a video refuses to load.