Verizon threatens legal action against Netflix over congestion message

Posted Jun 6, 2014

Verizon has threatened legal action against Netflix unless the streaming company does not stop telling its customers that Verizon’s network is to blame for poor service quality.

Verizon sent a cease and desist letter to Netflix asking the company to stop displaying “error messages” to Verizon FiOS broadband customers that are experiencing buffering and service quality issues. Verizon will “pursue legal remedies” if Netflix does not comply with its demands, said Verizon general counsel Randal Milch.

Netflix claims that Verizon and other Internet service providers like Comcast have not provided the necessary network upgrades to make sure traffic is not delivered in a suitable fashion to video subscribers. This is why Netflix compiled a report that ranks the performance of its service across ISPs. Verizon and Comcast scored near the bottom.

Verizon and Netflix signed a commercial arrangement. Netflix said it agreed only in order to improve the streaming service for customers on the Verizon FiOS network. However, Netflix is still accusing Verizon of poor performance of its service.

Vox Media designer Yuri Victor sent out a tweet on Wednesday containing a screenshot from Netflix that said: “The Verizon network is crowded right now. Adjusting video for smoother playback.”

Milch said that there are several factors that contribute to performance of any service on the Internet, including interconnection between multiple networks on the Internet, WiFi, and in-home wiring. Milch adds in his letter that data from independent sources like the FCC shows that Verizon FiOS consistently delivers network speeds that are beyond advertised speeds.

Milch said that Netflix could improve the delivery of its service by making business decisions differently. He said that Netflix chose several middlemen to deliver its traffic to Verizon, who are known to have congestion issues on content delivery networks. Milch said that if Netflix wanted to fix its buffering issues, it should choose partners that do not have known congestion issues. “Responsibility for its customers’ experience falls squarely on Netflix itself,” stated Milch.

Milch said that blaming Verizon for Netflix’s congestion issues is “self-serving, deceptive, inaccurate and an unfair business practice.” Verizon is also asking Netflix to provide evidence and documentation to back up the claims.

“This is about consumers not getting what they paid for from their broadband provider,” said a Netflix spokesman in an email to CNET. “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.”