Senator Al Franken has asked Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to testify to Congress regarding the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger.
Franken is one of the chief opponents to the merger. In a letter to Hastings, Franken says Comcast is in a unique position to favour its own content distributed online over others because it also owns NBCUniversal, which includes networks like NBC, Bravo, and USA.
“My concern is that Comcast will be able to use its clout in the broadband distribution market to obtain an anticompetitive advantage in the content market,” Franken writes to Hastings.
If the merger goes through, Comcast will control a large chunk of the population’s access to broadband Internet. Comcast’s says the merger is a good thing for consumers and that it doesn’t compete with Time Warner in any of its current markets, so consumers won’t be getting fewer choices for cable and Internet providers.
Hastings is in a good position to comment on the merger because Netflix has become a poster child for the net neutrality debate. Net neutrality advocates argue that Internet providers shouldn’t be able to favour what kinds of content gets distributed over their networks. There are some fears by folks like Franken that Comcast could theoretically slow down competing streaming video services like Netflix in favour of their own. That would also make it tough for new streaming video services to get started.
Recently, Netflix and Comcast signed a deal where Comcast gets direct access to Netflix’s servers so video can stream faster. Netflix pays Comcast an undisclosed amount of money for that access. It’s paid off too, at least for Netflix customers using Comcast. Netflix said this week that average streaming speeds on Comcast are much faster now.
Hastings hasn’t responded to Franken’s request yet, but you can read the full letter below: