Here's a new version of the story: In April, Netflix signed a Web traffic deal with Verizon. Now it is telling some of its customers that Verizon's pipes — and, presumably, other ISP's as well — aren't up to snuff.
Last night Vox Media designer Yuri Victor tried watching Netflix on his MacBook and ended up seeing this message from the streaming service on his browser, blaming Verizon for slow speeds: "The Verizon network is crowded right now."
Netflix spokesman Jonathan Friedland, via Twitter, described the messaging as a way to "keep members informed." Via email, he said the wording was a "test that advises members when their network is congested," and that it isn't specific to Verizon. "We'll see whether they think it is valuable or not."
(If anyone else with a different Internet provider has seen the same message, I'd love to hear from you.)
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UPDATE: Here's a response from Verizon PR rep Robert Elek: "This is a PR stunt. We're investigating this claim but it seems misleading and could confuse people."
Netflix has already been publishing scorecards that rank ISPs by speed, and Google has started doing the same. But you have to be at the edge of the broadband knowledge bell curve to know where to find those reports and understand what they mean.
This messaging is much clearer, and Netflix is delivering it directly to its customers:There's a problem with your picture. Blame the guy who owns the pipe.
It is surprising that Netflix is generating this message for Verizon customers, since you would assume its pipes would perform much better now that Netflix has a deal with the company. That's what happened at Comcast after it signed its deal with Netflix.
One other difference between Comcast and Verizon: In many markets, Comcast is the only service offering high-speed broadband, so it doesn't really matter if its pipes are working well or not — customers don't have any other choice.
But Verizon has been building out its fiber network specifically to compete with the likes of Comcast and other cable providers. Which means it's theoretically possible for Netflix's advisory to cost the telco some business, if its customers see this stuff enough and decide to do something about it.
Which I assume is the point Netflix is trying to make.
—By Peter Kafka, Re/code.net.
CNBC's parent NBC Universal is an investor in Re/code's parent Revere Digital, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.