Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says he's "not too worried" about what will happen if new FCC chairman Ajit Pai eliminates the Title II regulations that have guaranteed a neutral internet experience for US consumers in recent years.
Speaking to a group of journalists at Netflix's headquarters in Los Gatos, California earlier today, Hastings said he believes "the culture around net neutrality is very strong. The expectations of consumers are very strong. So even if the formal framework gets weakened," he continued, "we don't see a big risk actualizing, because consumers know they're entitled to getting all of the web services."
Hastings was responding to questions The Verge asked during the briefing, and stressed that Netflix is only participating in so-called zero-rating schemes with US wireless carriers because "they're not choosing one over the other .... they're providing consumers with a better value without being a gateway."
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Net neutrality has been a hot-button topic in the US since new president Donald Trump chose Pai as the new chairman of the FCC. Pai is a well-known opponent of the FCC establishing net neutrality rules, which exist to prevent internet service providers from prioritizing certain content, and which officially went into effect under the Obama administration in 2015. Since Pai's appointment, there have been many questions around how the rules might change, and whether the overarching principle of internet neutrality could be compromised.
In the past, Hastings has been outspoken about practices he believed went against net neutrality principles, calling out Comcast on his Facebook page back in 2012 and again in 2014 (in a company blog post that now appears to redirect back to the main page of the Netflix blog).
Then in 2015, Netflix announced a deal with Australian ISP iiNet to exempt its traffic from data caps, and last year said it would work with US carrier T-Mobile on its Binge On program, which lets customers stream video from Netflix and HBO without it racking up monthly data usage. Some net neutrality activists saw this as a reversal in Netflix's earlier position.
Hastings said he doesn't see programs like Binge On as a conflict because "T-Mobile in the US is making it open to all video providers ... and so the key thing is that it's neutral, and any video provider, our competitors or us, can sign up. There's no fees. The key thing that T-Mobile requires is that you stream at a lower bit rate, about one megabyte, and that saves them a lot at the network bandwidth."
He went on to say that programs like this are a positive because "you see how competitive the market is. They've been gaining market share in the US, and now you've gotten responses from AT&T and others increasing unlimited [data]. We're big fans of these programs that are neutral, and free to customers."
Hastings' analysis of programs like Binge On as neutral is, of course, not entirely unmotivated. As the key player in internet video, his company already has partnerships set up to ensure that he's in any conversations about zero-rating video services — something a brand new video startup won't have.