Hastings' comments, posted on a company blog, are his most extensive commentary on the subject since the much-ballyhooed agreement in February that would have Netflix install new servers that connect directly to Comcast's network instead of going through third-party data distributors.
Seeing it as a pay-for-play scheme that could spread in the industry, the deal enraged consumer advocates and other proponents of net neutrality, also called open Internet, a principle that prohibits Internet service providers from discriminating against any legal content via subpar Internet delivery. Hastings remained mum on the debate as he signed the agreement, but his latest comments seem to support their arguments.
"To ensure the Internet remains humanity's most important platform for progress, net neutrality must be defended and strengthened," Hastings wrote. ISPs "must provide sufficient access to their network without charge."
"While in the short term Netflix will in cases reluctantly pay large ISPs to ensure a high quality member experience, we will continue to fight for the Internet the world needs and deserves," he wrote.
Comcast took issue with Hastings. In a statement, the nation's largest ISP said Thursday it "supported the FCC's Open Internet rules because they struck the appropriate balance between consumer protection and reasonable network management rights for ISPs."
With video streaming on the rise, the Federal Communications Commission established net neutrality rules in 2010. But after years of pushback and legal fights with ISPs, the FCC was forced to abandon the rules after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia tossed them out in January.
The FCC says it'll draft new net neutrality rules or retain powers to enforc! e the principle on a case-by-case basis.
Netflix is, by far, the largest Internet bandwidth hog, occupying nearly one-third of North American data traffic, according to technology firm Sandvine.
Like other content providers, Netflix uses third-party distributors to store and move its content to ISPs. Once ISPs receive the content at the entrance of their networks, they then transmit it to consumers.
Hastings said the old rules were "important but insufficient" because they didn't include provisions that would have addressed these obscure, back-end deals among ISPs, content providers and their third-party distributors.
New rules should specifically prevent ISPs from charging content providers or their distributors a toll to connect more directly to their networks, Hastings said.
Comcast said the old net neutrality rules "never were designed to deal" with such back-end issues. "Providers like Netflix have always paid for their interconnection to the Internet and have always had ample options to ensure that their customers receive an optimal performance through all ISPs at a fair price," it said.
In the blog post, Hastings hinted that large ISPs are to blame for failing to invest in equipment and capacity that would ensure smoother streaming of its movies and TV shows. "On other big ISPs, due to a lack of sufficient interconnectivity, Netflix performance has been constrained," he wrote.
ISP proponents say Netflix and other popular content providers also should pay to upgrade equipment to relieve traffic.
In its program called "Open Connect," Netflix sought to install its servers directly inside ISPs' networks without involving payment. Several ISPs, including Cox Communications and Cablevision, agreed to join. Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and other large ISPs have resisted the overture, leading Netflix to strike independent deals.
In its "ISP speed index" released in January, Netflix said Comcast's speed – 1.51 megabits per second – ranked 14! th out of! 17 ISPs measured.
Netflix streaming speeds for Comcast customers have improved after Netflix agreed to pay, Hastings said. "If this kind of leverage is effective against Netflix, which is pretty large, imagine the plight of smaller services," he wrote. "Without strong net neutrality, big ISPs can demand potentially escalating fees."
Comcast has said Netflix receives no preferential network treatment under the agreement, a point Hastings reiterated in the blog post. "Comcast has been an industry leader in supporting weak net neutrality, and we hope they'll support strong net neutrality as well," he said.
With no rules regulating such payment agreements, Netflix will continue to pay large ISPs "in the near term," he said.