TWC Complains Netflix Wants Special Access

Opening a new front in the battle between traditional operators and Internet video providers, Time Warner Cable has charged Netflix with unfairly holding back content in trying to get preferential treatment from Internet-service providers.

This month, Cablevision Systems announced a deal to participate in Netflix’s Open Connect private content-delivery network. Under the agreement, Cablevision customers who are subscribers of Netflix’s overthe- top video package will have access to select titles in “Super HD” — which the streaming provider touts as providing even better quality than 1080p high-definition video — and 3D formats.

Netflix saves money on third-party CDN transit fees by co-locating caching servers that store copies of the most-frequently accessed content at ISPs’ data centers.

Time Warner Cable said it is currently in discussions with Netflix on terms for connecting into the video streamer’s CDN. But it said Netflix was improperly tying access to the enhanced video content to the CDN initiative.

“While they call it ‘Open Connect,’ Netflix is actually closing off access to some of its content while seeking unprecedented preferential treatment from ISPs,” Time Warner Cable said in a statement to Multichannel News. “We believe it is wrong for Netflix to withhold any content formats from our subscribers and the subscribers of many other ISPs. Time Warner Cable’s network is more than capable of delivering this content to Netflix subscribers today.”

Netflix countered that the CDN program is available for free to broadband providers.

“Open Connect provides Netflix data at no cost to the location the ISP desires and doesn’t seek preferential treatment,” Netflix chief communications officer Jonathan Friedland said in an emailed statement. “We hope Time Warner [Cable] will join the many major ISPs around the world who are participating in Open Connect to reduce costs, minimize congestion and improve data delivery to enhance the consumer experience.”

In addition to Cablevision, other ISPs participating in the Netflix Open Connect CDN include Google Fiber, Clearwire, Virgin Media, British Telecom, Telmex and Telus.

Netflix has introduced a heavy load on broadband networks, with its streaming video accounting for as much as 33% of downstream bandwidth consumption during peak periods, according to network-equipment vendor Sandvine.

As such, Netflix’s relationship with ISPs has been contentious at times. Executives at the company have argued to policymakers that ISP bandwidth caps and usage-based pricing practices are anticompetitive and will inhibit Internet video consumption.

Harold Feld, senior vice president of consumer-advocacy group Public Knowledge, suggested that Time Warner Cable is primarily interested in extracting CDN fees from Netflix or its content delivery network providers.

“[H]ow can Netflix be asking for privileges if they are making this available for free, and if it actually improves speed and avoids network congestion” for participating ISPs?, he asked rhetorically in a blog post. Feld also noted that Netflix’s Open Connect would let the company determine whether an ISP is “diddling with its content delivery.”

Among other big broadband providers, Verizon Communications, Charter Communications and CenturyLink said they are currently evaluating the Netfl ix CDN program. AT&T, Cox Communications, Bright House Networks and Suddenlink Communications declined to comment. Comcast didn’t respond to a request for comment.

According to Netflix, Super HD titles require a minimum connection of 5 Megabits per second and 7 Mbps for best quality.