Netflix, YouTube Streaming Gets Worse on Major ISPs, Who In Turn Blame the Deep, Dark Mysteries of the Internet
from the what-the-hell-is-going-on dept
Last week this blog entry by iScan developer David Raphael saw a lot of attention as proof positive that Verizon was violating network neutrality. Specifically, Raphael observed that services using Amazon Web Services accessed from his home FiOS connection (including Netflix) delivered bits more slowly than services accessed on his business FiOS connection. As his supposed nail in the neutrality-violation coffin, Raphael provided a chat transcript from a Verizon rep supposedly “confirming” that the company was throttling select services. This “proof” then bumbled and stumbled its way around the Internet as evidence neutrality had been trampled.
Except as anybody who has spent any time on the phone with a support rep knows, what comes out of their mouths may or may not have any direct tie to this particular plane of reality. It’s also worth noting that the kind of Netflix stuttering Raphael saw has been going on for much of the last year across numerous ISPs, long before Verizon’s recent court victory over the FCC’s neutrality rules. Verizon also denied they were manipulating traffic in a statement sent to all media outlets:
“We treat all traffic equally, and that has not changed. Many factors can affect the speed a customer’s experiences for a specific site, including, that site’s servers, the way the traffic is routed over the Internet, and other considerations. We are looking into this specific matter, but the company representative was mistaken. We are going to redouble our representative education efforts on this topic.”
While Raphael may have stumbled into Verizon shenanigans, what he saw could also be explained by normal peak network or peering congestion, and we’ve long discussed the problems with crying net neutrality wolf. Peering relationships are indeed complicated, with ISPs, content companies, and Internet backbone operators all engaged in an endless tug of war over video profits and peering imbalances (I recommend this piece last summer from Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica or this piece from last week by GigaOM’s Stacey Higginbotham).
With that as background, fast forward to this week when Netflix released their latest ISP streaming rankings, which show that most of the nation’s biggest ISPs have been dropping in regards to their Netflix streaming performance. ISPs that partner with Netflix’s Open Connect CDN do better in the rankings, and major ISPs have tried somewhat feebly to claim Netflix’s attempt to name and shame them into using their CDN is a sort of reverse network neutrality.
Still, Verizon FiOS (and DSL), Comcast, and AT&T’s U-Verse services have seen major drops in the rankings not entirely explained by their refusal to use Netflix’s CDN. Being large network operators, you would imagine that they’d be able to explain what exactly is happening to stink up millions of broadband users’ Netflix experiences, though Comcast, AT&T and Time Warner Cable refuse to comment to the media on their collective performance nose dive. Netflix also refuses to comment. Verizon, with all of their network expertise, continues to blame the problems on either unknown Internet bogeymen or Netflix:
“We state unequivocally that Verizon’s broadband Internet access services deliver a pristine user experience to our customers at any time of day on every day of the week. This has been repeatedly proven through independent testing by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which has conclusively demonstrated that FiOS Internet consistently delivers both download and upload speeds in excess of what we advertise. In short, our Internet customers often get more than they pay for.
How the Internet works can be complicated, and consumers should be aware of the fact that the integrity of their home Internet connection is only a portion of the streaming video quality equation. If their broadband connection is functioning correctly, the source of their frustration and the content they wish to see may be one in the same.”
In summation, the only major ISP wiling to comment on why millions of people are having YouTube and Netflix issues on fast connections insists “it’s complicated.” So what’s really happening? One theory du jour is that companies like Verizon are abusing their gatekeeper position and letting their peering points to companies like Netflix saturate in order to gain leverage in negotiations and rhetoric, while giving a leg up to their own CDN or services (like Red Box Instant by Verizon). Verizon’s certainly no stranger to these kinds of tactics, but again, there’s not enough data to prove that hypothesis, and while neutrality rules are dead, big ISPs aren’t exactly eager to do anything to invite new neutrality regulations.
The reality is that despite the best guesses of some very smart people, the jury is out because we lack enough data to make full conclusions just yet. The good news is we should see some more robust data in the coming months as data from collection operations like MLAB comes to light in looming FCC ISP performance reports. In addition, YouTube has started ranking ISPs based on YouTube streaming performance, which will also hopefully shed a little more light on precisely which Internet bogeymen are to blame for your stuttering video feed.