Is Verizon the Chris Christie of the Internet? Netflix has reported that viewing its movie streaming service during a period of December and January was like trying to cross the George Washington Bridge from Gov. Christie's New Jersey: slowed down, with a possible political motive.
Verizon Communications and the movie rental and streaming giant are in discussions, to put it mildly, over whether content providers who hog large amounts of bandwidth should contribute toward the cost of reaching viewers' mobile devices, computers and smart TVs.
Making a Point?
Analytics posted by Netflix show that Verizon FiOS customers saw their data connection speed lag from 2.11 megabits per second in December to 1.92 in January, a 14 percent drop. Verizon DSL customers saw a slowdown from 1.17 Mbps to 0.97 in the same period. Customers on most other carriers, like Google Fiber or Cablevision Optimum retained steady speed, while others saw only slight dips.
With its popular original series House of Cards, new and old movies and entire seasons of popular series like Breaking Bad for viewers to binge on, Netflix is a major congestion builder. But a spokeswoman for New York City-based Verizon, Linda Loughlin, told CNN that Verizon doesn't play favorites.
"Verizon continues to be open to ideas about the best ways to alleviate congestion so all customers benefit from the best quality of service possible," she said. "Verizon treats all traffic equally."
The slowdown comes at a time when corporations and the government are hashing out the ground rules of Net neutrality, and whether all traffic should be treated the same by access providers. Verizon last month scored a victory against the Federal Communications Commission when a federal court ruled that Internet service providers don't have to be subject to restrictions on pricing or preferential treatment.
"The whole question about Net neutrality is tough to answer since both sides make valid points," said telecommunications analyst Jeff Kagan.
"I don't see any reason why Verizon would not slow down Netflix to make a point," Kagan told us. "Customers may be comfortable with the current system, but the current system is not fair to all. Companies like Netflix and their customers ride the increasingly expensive Internet for free."
This means that providers like Verizon need to spend billions to build out their network to keep up demand, while bandwidth-hogging content providers increase their profits.
"Most sites don't use that much bandwidth so this is not a problem," Kagan said. "There are a few who use the vast majority of bandwidth and Netflix is one of them."
By turning up the heat Verizon may have been seeking to raise the profile of the issue to begin a debate. But the strategy, to be sure, has risks, particularly since online access is such a competitive market.
"Verizon risks getting a black eye with public relations if they don't handle this correctly," he said.