Netflix said Sunday it has agreed to a new deal with Comcast to ensure that its movies and TV shows stream more quickly for the Internet provider's customers.
The companies didn't disclose the terms of the deal.
The stunning agreement by the largest U.S. cable company and the most popular video streaming service could usher in a new era in video streaming. Emboldened by a recent court ruling that eliminated "net neutrality" rules that prohibited Internet providers from prioritizing content, Comcast and others cable companies have been showing signs that they will dictate more aggressively how content is sent through their "pipes."
Proponents of net neutrality fear that broadband providers - mostly cable and satellite companies - will seek payment from content providers for quicker streaming without a bottleneck and prefer movies and TV shows made by its own subsidiaries or partners companies. Internet providers' changing priorities could result in higher fees for consumers as content providers - having to pay to ensure smooth streaming - pass on the cost to end-users.
"We now have an Internet service provider telling content providers that the only way its service can work is if you pay an extra fee," says Michael Weinberg, vice president of consumer technology advocacy organization Public Knowledge. "The Internet service provider is injecting itself into the relationship between Netflix and its customers."
Netflix eats up much of the Internet traffic, particularly in evenings, occupying about 32% of the downstream traffic in North America, according to network technology company Sandvine.
Calling it "a mutually beneficial" agreement, Netflix and Comcast said the deal will provide Comcast broadband customers "a high-quality Netflix video experience for years to come."
"The companies have established a more direct connection between Netflix and Comcast, similar to other networks, that's already delivering an even better user experience to consumers, while also allowing for future growth in Netflix traffic," the companies' statement said. "Netflix receives no preferential network treatment under the multi-year agreement."