SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Netflix's videos are streaming through Comcast's Internet service at their highest speeds in 17 months, thanks to a recent deal that bought Netflix a more direct connection to Comcast's network.
The data released Monday by Netflix Inc. may become another flash point in a debate about whether the Federal Communications Commission should draw up new rules to ensure that all online content providers are treated the same by Internet service providers.
The equal-treatment doctrine, known as net neutrality, has become a thornier topic since January when a federal appeals court overturned the FCC's regulations on the issue. Net neutrality is also drawing more attention as Comcast tries to gain approval of its proposed $45 billion purchase of Time Warner Cable Inc., another large Internet service provider.
As the world's largest Internet video subscription service, Netflix has long supported net neutrality as a way to prevent online service providers from giving better treatment to websites willing to pay additional fees for the privilege. Nevertheless, Netflix agreed in mid-February to pay an undisclosed sum to Comcast Corp. to create a new avenue for its videos to reach Comcast's service.
Netflix previously had been paying third-party vendors such as Cogent Communications Group Inc. and Akamai Technologies Inc. to deliver its content to Comcast. Some analysts suspect Netflix may be saving money by paying Comcast directly instead of the vendors, but the specifics remain unknown as part of a confidentiality agreement.
The arrangement clearly seems to paying off for Netflix subscribers who are among the nearly 21 million households and businesses that rely on Comcast's high-speed Internet service to watch movies and television shows.
Comcast delivered Netflix video at an average rate of 2.5 megabits per second during March. That was a 66 percent increase from a recent low of 1.51 megabits per second in January.
The March performance also topped the previous monthly high of 2.17 megabits per second that Netflix had recorded on Comcast. Netflix began tracking the streaming speeds of Internet service providers in November 2012.
Higher streaming speeds allow users to watch higher-quality video and translate to fewer interruptions in the picture.
That's good news for Netflix because higher-quality video should please many of its 33 million U.S. subscribers who pay $8 per month for the company's video streaming service. But that doesn't necessarily mean the Los Gatos, Calif. company is happy about the circumstances that prodded it into Comcast partnership.
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