Reed Hastings, Netflix

Netflix has asked the Federal Communications Commission to prevent Comcast and Time Warner Cable from merging to form what it calls the “nation’s largest onramp to the Internet.”

This is merely the latest of Netflix’s attempts to play both sides of every argument concerning the future of the Internet. Though it presents itself as a bastion of idealism amidst a sea of immoral companies, its moves are driven by avarice, with little regard for the Web’s future.

I’ve been making this point since Netflix decided to pay Comcast interconnection fees earlier this year. I used the company as an example of the tech industry’s false idealism, and have previously written about its many attempts to play both ends against the middle.

Consider the opening argument presented in its letter to the FCC. While it points out that the merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable would harm the Internet — which is true — and places the merger in context with the state of the United States’ online infrastructure, it also spends a lot of time discussing the negative effect such a deal could have on its business:

Comcast’s and TWC’s customers often lack any (let alone several) viable alternative broadband provider that is capable of providing the download speeds necessary to enjoy video content; and the high cost of switching ISPs, compared to the low cost of switching [online video distributors], makes it likely that [online video distributors] will feel the brunt of consumer disappointment, not ISPs.

The argument goes on in that vein for some time, with Netflix portraying itself as the victim to ISPs. It makes some fair points, and it would be bad for both Netflix and consumers if ISPs abuse their near-monopoly in an effort to make their own video services more popular.

But I doubt that Netflix will truly suffer from this merger. It will strike a deal with the new company much like it struck a deal with Comcast. It can afford to pay those interconnection fees, at least for a while, even though many other companies wouldn’t be able to, so it’ll live.

Of course, it would prefer not to pay those fees. So it wraps its self-interest in a veil of altruism and aligns itself with those who contest the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger because it would further degrade the country’s already-embarrassing Internet infrastructure. As I wrote when I examined Netflix’s actions for a story about the lack of true ideals in tech companies:

Netflix is a prime example of this double standard. The company has come out in support of net neutrality in force, publishing blog post after blog post about the dangers companies like Comcast pose to the free Internet, and chief executive Reed Hastings is a staunch supporter of the open Web. But the company continues to make deals with Comcast and Verizon and other Internet companies that undermine the ideals that it purports to uphold — often while its blog is overrun with condemnations of those very same deals and how they could effect the Internet.

If this letter to the FCC helps block the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger, it should be counted as a win for the Internet. But that doesn’t mean that Netflix really intends to bet its company on its false idealism, or that it should be heralded as a defender of the free Internet when it’s really just doing its best to keep its service running, no matter what that requires.

[Photo credit: Re/Code]