updated 3/2/2006 7:04:40 PM ET 2006-03-03T00:04:40

Movie-rental giant Blockbuster Inc., jumping on a recent admission by online rival Netflix Inc., is boasting that it doesn’t discriminate against frequent renters when it runs short of popular titles.

However, Blockbuster’s terms of use clearly state that it can consider sending popular movies first to people who don’t rent as frequently.

Netflix has acknowledged that it sometimes delays shipping popular DVDs to frequent renters and sends them instead to customers who keep the movies longer. The practice saves the company on postage and handling. Netflix changed its terms of use recently to disclose the policy.

Blockbuster, which runs an online-rental service that competes with Netflix, said Thursday it had received customer inquiries after media reports about Netflix’s policy, called “throttling.”

The practice is permitted under the terms of use listed on Blockbuster’s Web site.

Blockbuster used the practice in the past but phased it out between August and December of last year, said spokeswoman Karen Raskopf.

Instead, the Dallas-based company gives priority to renters who didn’t get their first choice the last time they sought an in-demand movie, Raskopf said.

“As near as we can get to first-come, first-served, that’s our goal,” she said.

Steve Swasey, a spokesman for Los Gatos, Calif.-based Netflix, said his company rarely uses the throttling technique, but he did not offer numbers.

“We don’t like to have to do it at all, but the reality is you have to manage resources,” Swasey said, adding that patrons seem to understand. “Every customer who has raised concerns in the media is still a customer of Netflix.”

Swasey said the practice occurs more often with new releases, which are only about 30 percent of Netflix’s business.

At the end of last year, Netflix had 4.2 million customers and Blockbuster had 1 million online subscribers, according to the companies. Blockbuster’s service hasn’t grown as fast as the company first projected, and it also has cut prices to compete with Netflix.

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