Stepping into yet another regulatory hornets' nest, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler plans to get to the heart of the peering disputes between the nation's leading broadband and content providers.
Speaking at a press conference after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's regular open meeting Friday, Wheeler said the Commission has begun probing the peering issue, which has fueled loud public battles between online video powerhouse Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) on one side and such major broadband providers as Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), and AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) on the other. He said the FCC is "now collecting information" about the direct network interconnect agreements between broadband and content providers to understand why Internet video users are experiencing traffic slowdowns and viewing problems. (See Verizon Threatens to Sue Netflix and Netflix CEO Wants 'Strong' Net Neutrality .)
Wheeler said the FCC has already requested and received the recent paid peering deals between Comcast and Netflix and between Verizon and Netflix. He said the agency is now seeking other peering agreements as well.
"To be clear, what we are doing right now is collecting information, not regulating," Wheeler said in a statement. "We are looking under the hood. Consumers want transparency. They want answers. And so do I."
Wheeler stressed that he doesn't know who, if anybody, is to blame for these streaming video problems and peering disputes. But he indicated that he plans to get to the bottom of the issue because of the high volume of complaints the agency is receiving from consumers.
"Consumers pay the ISP and they pay content providers like Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon," he said. "Then when they don't get good service, they wonder what is going on. I have experienced these problems myself and know how exasperating it can be."
Wheeler emphasized that the peering issue is separate from the net neutrality proposals that the Commission has advanced with its Open Internet rules. But he said the issues are clearly related, calling them "cousins."
In similar statements, spokespeople for both Comcast and Netflix said their companies welcomed the FCC's probe into the peering issue, asserting that consumers would benefit from greater "transparency" in this area. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), whose committee oversees such issues, also welcomed the Commission's move.
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading