Yep, Internet Providers Were Throttling Traffic During Netflix Negotiations
October 29, 2014

Imagine that. If only we had some kind of government agency that was supposed to prevent things like telecom monopolies!

Plenty of Comcast and Verizon customers know just how bad Internet service was on major ISPs during the months-long battle over who should pay to deliver Netflix traffic.

But now we have more numbers on the performance declines, thanks to a new report from the Measurement Lab Consortium (M-Lab). M-Lab hosts measuring equipment at Internet exchange points to analyze connections between network operators and has more than five years' worth of measurements. A report released today examines connections between consumer Internet service providers ("Access ISPs" in M-Lab parlance) and backbone operators ("Transit ISPs"), including the ones that sent traffic from Netflix to ISPs while the money fights were still going on.Netflix eventually agreed to pay Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and AT&T for direct connections to their networks, but until that happened there was severe degradation in links carrying traffic from Netflix and many other Web services to consumers.

Connections were particularly bad between ISPs and Cogent, one of the backbone operators that Netflix paid to carry its traffic.

"Using Measurement Lab (M-Lab) data, and constraining our research to the United States, we observed sustained performance degradation experienced by customers of Access ISPs AT&T, Comcast, CenturyLink, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon when their traffic passed over interconnections with Transit ISPs Cogent Communications (Cogent), Level 3 Communications (Level 3), and XO Communications (XO)," researchers wrote.

"In a large number of cases we observed similar patterns of performance degradation whenever and wherever specific pairs of Access/Transit ISPs interconnected. From this we conclude that ISP interconnection has a substantial impact on consumer internet performance—sometimes a severely negative impact—and that business relationships between ISPs, and not major technical problems, are at the root of the problems we observed.

"M-Lab was founded by the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, the PlanetLab Consortium, Google, and academic researchers. M-Lab made its full dataset available online and encouraged further research.

New Yorkers suffered most
While M-Lab observed degraded performance across the country, the worst it found was in the New York City connections between Cogent and ISPs. Cogent exchanges traffic with ISPs without payment, but the ISPs demanded money when Cogent was sending more traffic than it received. The dispute continued until Netflix started delivering traffic to ISPs directly, taking the stress off Cogent's connections with ISPs.

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