Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, left, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on cell phones on planes.
Netflix's war of words on Internet service providers has scored its first victory.
The FCC will begin looking at the network connection agreements between companies like Netflix and Verizon, a move that could mean more scrutiny over how data is sent to Internet users.
The move has no regulatory ramifications right now, but could mark the FCC's intentions to broaden the scope of how it regulates the flow of data on the Internet.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said during an open meeting on Friday that the commission wants to learn more about these deals, but said it had no current plans to regulate the activity, according to a report from The Hill.
"Consumers must get what they pay for. As the consumer’s representative we need to know what is going on. I have therefore directed the Commission staff to obtain the information we need to understand precisely what is happening in order to understand whether consumers are being harmed," Wheeler said, according to a release from the FCC.
Once the worry only of industry players and analysts, peering agreements have been brought to the forefront recently, particularly by Netflix. The company signed paid peering deals with ISPs Comcast and Verizon to improve performance of its service. Since then,
Netflix has been vocal that ISPs should not charge for these types of dealsNetflix has been vocal that ISPs should not charge for these types of deals.
Deals in which companies make direct physical connections between networks — known as interconnection or peering — have become increasingly controversial recently.
Peering agreements are a common part of how the Internet operatesPeering agreements are a common part of how the Internet operates, allowing users and content providers to send data across numerous networks to reach a desired endpoint.
Those agreements do not fall under the FCC's newly proposed rules for regulating how companies control the flow of data on the Internet. Net neutrality advocates are calling for the agency to take aggressive steps to ensure that ISPs are not able to play favorites among content providers.
Wheeler said that comments from the public led him to explore issues beyond traditional net neutrality concerns. In his statement, he cited an email he had received from "George":
Netflix versus Verizon: Is Verizon abusing Net Neutrality and causing Netflix picture quality to be degraded by “throttling” transmission speeds? Who is at fault here? The consumer is the one suffering! What can you do?
Peering deals have traditionally been done without money changing hands, although recently analyst Dan Rayburn discovered evidence that paid peering has quietly become common.
Comcast released a statement welcoming the FCC's move.
"We welcome the Chairman’s attention to these important issues in the Internet ecosystem. Internet traffic exchange on the backbone is part of ensuring that bits flow freely and efficiently and all actors across the system have a shared responsibility to preserve the smooth functioning and highly competitive backbone interconnection market," Sena Fizmaurice, Comcast's vice president of government communications, said in a statement. "We welcome this review which will allow the Commission full transparency into the entire Internet backbone ecosystem and enable full education as to how this market works."