Rank not, that ye not be ranked

Netflix came out its monthly ISP speed rankings yesterday, which showed a marked erosion in the streaming speeds delivered by Verizon FiOS and Comcast over the past several months. Verizon’s performance has fallen from an average speed of 2.2Mbs in October to 1.82 Mbs in January, according to Netflix, while Comcast’s performance has dropped from 2.11 Mbs to 1.51Mbs over that same period.

The data will doubtless fuel speculation that the ISPs are throttling Netflix traffic now that the FCC’s net neutrality rules are out the window. But as Ars Technica pointed out, the declines in performance began in October, before the court had issued its net neutrality rules and right after Netflix began delivering “Super HD” video to all its customers, regardless of whether their ISPs are part of Netflix’s Open Connect CDN (Verizon and Comcast are not). Moreover, Comcast is still covered by the net neutrality rules in its NBC merger-consent agreement with the Justice Department irrespective of the status of the FCC’s rules.

In any case, it’s clear from the statement Verizon offered Ars in response to the Netflix release that network operators are getting pretty tired of having their performance ranked by third parties with axes to grind:

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.

That last bit reminded me of conversations I’ve been involved in recently with network operators (confidential, so no names) in which some sort of turnabout-is-fair-play response was discussed. One idea floated was to start ranking online services and applications according to how well optimized they are for network performance and how much strain they put on network infrastructure relative to other services.

So, we could soon have dueling rankings each month: one for how fast ISPs are delivering certain bits; and one for how well those bits are organized to run fast.

That should certainly help clarify things for consumers.

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Sweeting

Paul Sweeting

Principal Concurrent Media Strategies

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