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Dear Comcast, re: Throttling Netflix and the Relative Value of Your Services

By Will Smith

This is the letter I sent to the CEO of Comcast Cable and his boss this morning after I tried to watch House of Cards and Orange is the New Black last night and got sub 480p streams.

This is the letter I sent to Neil Smit, CEO of Comcast Cable, and Brian L Roberts, CEO of Comcast Corporation this morning in response to my experience streaming video on Netflix at lower than SD bitrates last night on my 50Mbit/sec Comcast connection at home. I've been a Comcast subscriber for 8 years and have been reasonably happy with the service, despite the high price and some availability hiccups, because of the high performance of my Internet connection. If Comcast is going to take that advantage away, I'll happily drop them for a more user-friendly local provider.

Photo credit: Flickr user alykat via Creative Commons.

Mr. Smit and Mr Roberts,

Over the last few weeks, I've seen reports that your company was throttling traffic from Netflix when it traversed your network. The complaints seemed like the kind of hyperbole that permeates the Internet, but after watching a movie on Netflix last night, I can assure you, there was no hyperbole. Judging by the bitrates I saw on my Comcast connection, if anything, the complaints were measured and reserved.

I realize that issues related to backbone peering are likely more complex than a person like myself can understand, but I do understand that your service is degrading the quality of another service I pay for and enjoy. Video I stream from Netflix today looks worse on your service than it would have on the 6Mbit/sec DSL connection I had in 2005 before I became a Comcast customer.

I realize that you're worried because your customers have indicated that they get comparable value from services like Netflix as they do from Comcast's TV service. This would worry me too, if I were you. However, the problem isn't Netflix's offering, it's yours.

Like I said before, I may not understand the nuances of a complex peering agreement, but I can easily ascribe value to the services I subscribe to. Right now, I pay $8 a month for Netflix, and about $120 per month for Comcast cable and Internet. I watch roughly equivalent amounts of content on Netflix and TV. I make a lot less money than you do, so it may be difficult for you to understand, but to me, $8 is an incredible bargain for everything that I get from Netflix. There's always something i want to watch there, they have a wide selection of kid-friendly videos, and they're even making some pretty good original shows now.

On the other hand, I always feel a little ripped off by the money I pay your company. I am a customer because you offer the fastest Internet in my area, but in order to get the speeds I want along with the handful of TV channels I want to watch, I have to pay for hundreds of channels I never see. The real kick in the teeth is that most of the channels I watch are available for free, over-the-air using a $15 antenna. And when I plug in my $15 antenna, those local channels look noticeably better than they do through your service. Instead of making it easy for me to get just the channels I care about, you bundle them all together with a lot of nonsense I don’t want or need and then charge me $120 a month. You have the audacity to call that a value, when all I really want is fast Internet along with NBC, FOX, HBO, A&E, and Comedy Central.

My connection still drops for a few minutes every single day, invariably when I'm in the middle of something important.

And you know what else? Your internet service is speedy, but it isn't even particularly reliable. Your service crews have been to my house a dozen times over the last six years, and my connection still drops for a few minutes every single day, invariably when I'm in the middle of something important.

I'm paying your company a lot of money every year. In exchange for that, I expect a high level of service from you. To me, that means that I expect you to deliver whatever content I'm requesting across your network. I expect you to carry it across your network, to my house unmolested, unfiltered, and unthrottled. In exchange for doing that, I'll probably continue paying you a high premium for a luxury I don't really need since it's a marginal additional price to get a "better deal" on internet access.

On the other hand, if your network can only deliver Netflix videos at a lower quality level than I’d get using the DSL you loved to denigrate in your advertising, so be it. But I can save a bunch of money every year by cutting your cord--canceling my cable and switching to DSL. Netflix works with any ISP. If your network can't cope, I'm happy to switch.

///Will Smith

If you'd like to let Comcast's executives know how you feel about throttling Netflix and other competitors, their corporate emails seem to use the format firstname_lastname@corporate.comcast.com, and they post a complete list of executives on their investor site.