Why your Netflix streaming stinks, and who's going to pay to fix it

Why your Netflix streaming stinks, and who's going to pay to fix it

Wondering why you've had increasing problems with Netflix movies buffering or failing to load? There's little question anymore than your ISP is to blame. Are they justified in holding back that network traffic? Getting the problem fixed is a question of who's going to foot the bill.

Cogent Communications CEO Dave Schaeffer recently told Ars Technica that his company's network traffic — more specifically, traffic from their client Netflix — is being held hostage by Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon. That's because of something called peering, and Comcast and Verizon's insistence that Cogent pay them to get them to accept its traffic. Ars Technica:

Cogent has refused to pay. As negotiations stall, Netflix performance has dropped measurably for months on both Verizon and Comcast. Cogent claims this is because Verizon and others—but especially Verizon—are refusing to upgrade the connections between networks. Cogent points out that Verizon offers its own streaming video services, such as Redbox Instant, and thus has an incentive to harm Netflix traffic.

Verizon denies that it is hampering Netflix traffic to promote Redbox Instant specifically, but it doesn't deny that it has a problem with Cogent. It also points out that it's come to peering arrangements with other companies, but says that Cogent is unique in its insistence that it shouldn't have to pay.

What hangs in the balance here is your own experience streaming content from Netflix. Until this gets resolved, expect to continue to have problems watching your movie without interruptions or at lower quality than you should be able to receive it, thanks to Cogent's standoff with your ISP.

One solution for some broadband customers might be to take their business to someone else who isn't fighting with Cogent. But that's easier said than done. In many areas, like where I live, you can't just shop around for another broadband provider: my two choices are Comcast or (the much slower) Verizon DSL. If I lived 20 miles northwest of my current locations, I could get Comcast or Verizon FIOS. But I'd still be in the same boat.

The problems between Netflix, Cogent and ISPs illustrates a very real and potentially damaging issue as new services appear that try to make use of distributed content — whether that's a streaming movie or an emerging cloud service: ISPs are the gatekeepers to the customers. And if you're not willing to play nice with the ISP, chances are you're going to have a problem providing reliable service to your customers.

Some lawmakers and some policy wonks would love to see the government change the way ISPs work to make them common carriers. That would enable the feds to regulate the way your ISP works and would potentially make it easier to enforce net neutrality, providing a level playing field for everyone with an Internet service to offer.

But it's not going to change the physical bandwidth limitations that ISPs are hitting to provide customers with this access. And that bandwidth costs money to provide. But from Cogent's perspective, ISPs are making a hell of a lot of money off their customer base and owe it to them to provide good service — they see ISP attempts to throttle their traffic as a violation of that arrangement.

Netflix is by some measure producing one-third of the combined download traffic of US internet connections at peak times. They have over 33 million subscribers in the US (another 11 million outside the US). While Cogent is the heavy here — taking the brunt of the PR associated with this standoff, there's a case to be made that Netflix could be doing more to improve the efficiency of its streaming technology (right now, it uses Microsoft's VC-1 codec).

Inside baseball on streaming technology notwithstanding, someone's eventually going to blink. Either Cogent and Netflix are going to pony up cash to get the ISPs off their backs or the ISPs are going to open up the floodgates and let that traffic through. The other possibility is that if the ISPs continue to throttle Netflix traffic, customers will leave the service. No

But to answer the question I posed in the headline: Who will pay for it? I think there's little question that whether the change comes from the ISP or from Cogent, chances are good that you're going to be stuck with the final bill. Either your ISP rates will go up or Netflix will end up charging more.

Have you run into streaming problems with Netflix or other bandwidth-intensive services? Are you fed up with your ISP playing chicken with content companies? Let me see your thoughts in the comments.

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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There are 19 comments. Add yours.

d ha says:

It is always someone that wants to be an ass.
Why can't shit ever be good for a while.
Company A doesn't like Company B and BS like this!?!?!
And then the FEDs will regulate and then it all goes to shit!

Ali Jawad1 says:

For now just use VPN see this http://thevpn.guru/netflix-streaming-problems-verizon/ apparently if you use VPN and encrypt your traffic it will bounce behind the Verizon shit gates, BUT yes this cant be happening, whats next ?

iSRS says:

"But to answer the question I posed in the headline: Who will pay for it? I think there's little question that whether the change comes from the ISP or from Cogent, chances are good that you're going to be stuck with the final bill. Either your ISP rates will go up or Netflix will end up charging more."

The answer is going to be both will charge us more.

Until there is true competition in most areas (as you've stated, there are very few places there really is), this is what we will be subjected to. These ISPs are generally our TV providers as well. That is part of the problem. They have yet to realize, or perhaps they have, that their days are numbered for their current business models.

Also, I am not one for more regulation, but this is certainly an area that could use more. For example. Comcast wants to buy time warner. Personally I don't think this should be allowed, however, since they aren't really competitors because of the lack of overlap or competition in most areas, not sure it matters. But if it is allowed? The FCC should make a condition that their internet is never restricted like this. Not for a few years. Never.

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m1n1cooper says:

This is why I am glad I live in the uk I have been using netflix for ages in fact I am watching it now with no problems at all

Galley says:

I watch one Major League Baseball game every evening on MLB.TV. They had better not throttle my beloved baseball games!

daniebello says:

Idk how realistic this is but Netflix should offer consumers who have Comcast or Verizon the option to pay a higher monthly fee to get the streaming quality that they SHOULD be getting and that everyone else who doesn't have Verizon or Comcast gets for the regular price. Netflix should come forward as apologetic but that this is the only option so long as Verizon and Comcast don't play fair, my bet is consumers would be outraged and pummel both companies with consumer complaints into submission.

rfjonly says:

I use Sonic.net as my ISP and Netflix streams just fine.

Gsarfin says:

Why can I stream a movie from Netflix just fine, but renting one from iTunes takes me 5-12 hrs before I can hi play on my Apple TV?

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Gsarfin says:

*hit* play

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SockRolid says:

"Have you run into streaming problems with Netflix or other bandwidth-intensive services?"

Not really. I do occasionally get that Netflix error, but so far Comc*st has maintained their 25Mb/s download speed for me. Although it does slow way down during the day once in a while.

As for Comc*st's cable TV offering, I say "F*ck that sh*t." I only have their Xf*n*ty internet service, and still use Dir*cTV for actual TV. I don't particularly care for Dir*cTV either. I have zero attachment to them. The first ISP to bring me optical fiber (or "real 4G") will be the winner. Period.

Oh, and as for Netflix' overall quality, who cares? It's 8 bucks a month.

Mrdevali says:

Comcast xfinity direct tv... Sans *'s

Tadm says:

It is what screws up the new Technologies . They have way to much control they don't care about the consumer at all they care how much profit they can make and there is not much anybody can do about it. I believe we should have free wifi everywhere in the world, that is just my opinion

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tpherson says:

Free WiFi, Free Healthcare, Free Retirement,......etc. Its not free, somone is paying for it. The problem is that there are monopolies that control your internet and television access. No competetion means crappy pricing and crappy service. Even if you get competetion with regards to ISP and internet access, the content is controlled by a small group of companies, so just having the ability to access it, does not mean they will allow you to have it. Why do you think Apple TV has not happened in a meaningful way, or Google TV? They can't get access to the content neccesary. You think anyone is going to let Apple do to video what they did to music? I have both Apple TV and Google TV. I actually beleive Google TV is a superior product and the direction apple should be moving with regards to Television. However, Comcast will not allow its cable boxes to communicate with a Google TV, making what could be a great product into a Ho Hum product. And why won't they let Google in, Comcast wants to cotrol the content and interaction with the television. And becuase Comcast is a monopoly, they have no incentive to provide the srevices that a GoogleTV (or Apple TV) can offer. So I'm stuck with a cable box that really does no better than 720P and has an interface that looks like it was designed in 1995. Apple or Google could design the best TV experience ever, but the cable companies will never let them have access to the content we want.

davidbowser says:

For anyone that wants a bit more technical detail from the perspective of how peering works and such:

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2014/02/netflix-packets-be...

This is a business model problem for consumer ISPs, so consumers end up feeling the pain regardless of if they pay for the high end plan or the budget plan. The model is to build an infrastructure that is heavily over-provisioned, (meaning the sum of the bandwidth customers pay for is far more than the infrastructure can support) and then prioritize and throttle traffic when utilization gets high. Over-provisioning is historically not a big problem because ISPs can plan infrastructure upgrades based on historic trending. The problem is when the upgrades cut into their profit. Simply put, the model does not enable them to have the profit margins they want when their customers actually use what they pay for.

eagleaj says:

I started watching House of Cards and noticed the video quality was low. I also saw the video took an inordinate time to load. I did a speed test with my tablet while watching and found a download speed of 1.5 mps. I have a 25 down connection with Verizon FIOS. The signal moved to normal shortly but it seems odd given the anecdotal evidence. I think they really are playing these games. No concern for customers obviously.

losingsighthxc says:

I did the same thing the other night, throttled me down to .56mbps I couldn't believe it. I live in a college apartment complex and the internet is provided and included in rent. The speed claims 3mbps but I usually get about 1.25-1.89. I miss having at least 10mbps.

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asuperstarr says:

Great read! I hope this issue gets resolved soon. It becomes very annoying at times.

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williamsbh76 says:

My biggest fear is that all of this is going to lead to more broadband data caps than what we see. Either way it goes, they all have us by the balls and yes we the consumer will pay. The cell phone companies did it with smartphones. They got us addicted with originals like the iphone and other first gen smart phones. Now that our insatiable addiction to all things data based has peaked, they have yanked the noose with data caps and high end devices that gobble data. We're screwed.

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Jason Dobiesz says:

i domt understand this at all considering i have BEEN paying for Netflix and never had an issue viewing or playing movies until i switched from Time Warner to Verizon DSL! I watch Neflix through my xbox & ever since i've switched to Verizon dsl i cant even see the movies let alone watch them & my internet speed is MORE than enough that i should be able to! I have had 2 techs come to my house to fix the issue & when the last guy left he said i should have no problems viewing HD movies and Netflix and yet STILL its the same problems where im getting about 5 Mbps & i vant even have more than 2 rows of movies show up OR i cant even watch movies PERIOD. This is not right considering i oay Verizon for their highspeed internet services AND iboay for Netflix and i cant even simply watch a movie?? i feel completely ripped off. This world is money greedy & it is ridiculous!