Netflix and Verizon in public cat-fight over poor video quality

Verizon(s vz) has responded to public chiding from Netflix(s nflx) over its internet speed by sending its erstwhile “partner” an equally public cease-and-desist instructing Netflix to stop doing that … or else. The spat is the latest is what is becoming a near-weekly PR battle over who is to blame for the lousy state of America’s online video streaming.

In case you missed it, this week’s contretemps came after the media gleefully pointed out how Netflix has decided to point fingers when its subscribers get their shows interrupted by a slow connection. A tweet of a screenshot saying “The Verizon Network is crowded now” appears to have really bugged the telecom giant:

Even though Netflix is reportedly giving other ISP’s the same treatment, Verizon professed outrage and on Thursday issued a “cease-and-desist” letter that is now all over the internet. Such notices are not new. As you can see below, from a photo take by my colleague Stacey Higginbotham, when congestion causes video streaming problems despite her 50 Mbps video connection, the app or the playback device offers a notification to the user.


The letter, from Verizon’s General Counsel and signed “Randy,” doesn’t read much like a typical legal letter and its vague warning that the company “may .. pursue legal remedies” won’t have Netflix quaking in its boots anytime soon.

But, well, lawsuit thunder gets more notice than plain old press statements. I would just add that consumers should desperately wish that Verizon does sue — the legal discovery process might be our best hope to find out what the heck is really going on behind the scenes.

For now, the likely explanation for the slow video is that, despite a recent agreement between Netflix and Verizon over traffic delivery, Verizon is not doing all that it can to support peering between its network and Netflix’s network, leaving consumers stuck in the lurch.

If there is any good to come out of the episode so far, it could be in the form of more transparency from ISP’s on peering, which is something Gigaom strongly supports. In the meantime, other content companies like YouTube are also doing their bit by rating ISP’s on their performance.

Verizon cease and desist to Netflix

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