Netflix CEO: Europe needs strong net neutrality rules

Reed Hastings [Sebastian Gabsch/Netflix]

Speaking in Berlin on Tuesday (5 May), Netflix CEO Reed Hastings argued that Europe needs a strong law guaranteeing net neutrality. The European Commission’s Digital Market plans, he explained, fall in line with his firm’s goals. “We really want the world to be a single market,” Hastings said.

In the lead up to Wednesday’s announcement, activists and politicians have been making noise about the finer points of the Digital Single Market, including net neutrality and geo-blocking.

Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda cited the American video streaming company as an example of geo-blocking’s effects in an April blog post. The European Telecommunications Operators Association (ETNO) specified Netflix as an over-the-top television service in its recent report outlining suggestions for Digital Single Market plans.

Netflix has been a vocal supporter of net neutrality in the United States, where legislation was passed protecting the policy, but now faces legal challenges. “It hasn’t been a big problem yet in Europe for Netflix. But we do worry as the Internet grows that net neutrality isn’t a strong law here yet. We think it’s good for lawmakers to weigh in before there’s a problem with the principle that the Internet is a utility, like electricity,” Hastings told EURACTIV. “Not everyone agrees with that. If you ask most telcos, they don’t want to be a utility,” he added.

>>Read: MEPs strengthen Net Neutrality in telecoms overhaul

Hastings says Netflix’s fix for geo-blocking restrictions is to license more content so it can operate in more countries, such as Poland, where the service is currently not available. Netflix’s Amsterdam-based spokesman Joris Evers added, “We’ve been able to work quite well with the system that has existed so far,” indicating that the company’s expansion in Europe shows geo-blocking hasn’t negatively impacted its growth.

During a talk at the re:publica conference in Berlin, when asked about new geo-blocking legislation that will likely be part of the Digital Single Market, Hastings said, “You can’t wait for the Commission.” The latest draft of the strategy leaked to media outlets on Tuesday describes the executive’s intent to draft legislation “in the first half of 2016 to end unjustified geo-blocking”.

Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip has previously spoken out against geo-blocking, clashing with Günther Oettinger, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, who recently said in an interview with the Austrian technology website that he thinks geo-blocking could be successful.

>>Read: EU to water down net neutrality rules

At ETNO’s annual conference last October in Brussels, Hastings gave a speech defending “strong net neutrality” and told attendees he dislikes paid peering deals with telecoms that keep Netflix “held hostage”. Netflix launched its recent expansion in Europe with deals with Deutsche Telekom, Bouygues and Orange, which give customers access to Netflix through their video on demand streaming services.

Hastings told EURACTIV that Netflix aims to reach cost-free agreements with telecoms. “Ninety five percent of our telecoms relations around the world are that. Some big, old telcos, the state-owned, were used to getting paid by other people, so that’s where it’s a fight.”

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