With a subscriber base passing the 20 million mark in Q4 2010, Netflix has new clout in the marketplace. The company’s top priority has been to maintain and improved its streaming service that has become wildly popular with consumers. Part of the road to improvement is a bigger selection of content with more new releases. This month the company has entered into a bidding war against HBO for Warner Brothers content while welcoming HBO’s content as well. The other critical element of streaming service is delivery. While Netflix has invested in edge networking to bring its stream closer to consumers, it still relies on local ISP’s for the last mile to subscribers. Since virtually all ISP’s are in the pay TV business, Netflix has valid reason fro concern about having it’s stream traffic over managed by those ISP’s. In what appears to be a warning shot to ISP’s The company has published performance rankings for the 16 largest US ISP’s and Canada’s 4 players. The results have a few surprises, the top US provider is Charter, with Rogers in Canada significantly besting its performance, Bottom of the pack is Clearwire. While Clearwire is the only wireless operator, it is also the only operator not offering pay TV service on its network.
Kudos to Netflix for releasing this data to the public. More bandwidth reliant services should follow its lead and release their data. While we have fewer broadband choices that ever, it’s good to have independently produced performance information. With a a little more competition in the marketplace, this kind of data could drive substantial improvement.
Comcast’s woes over their network management practices seem to be without end. It would help if the company would just fess up, stop it and move on, but this has not been their strategy so far.
The head of the Federal Communications Commission said Thursday he will recommend that the nation’s largest cable company be punished for violating agency principles that guarantee customers open access to the Internet.
The potentially precedent-setting move stems from a complaint against Comcast Corp. that the company had blocked Internet traffic among users of a certain type of “file sharing” software that allows them to exchange large amounts of data.
“The commission has adopted a set of principles that protects consumers access to the Internet,” FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told The Associated Press late Thursday. “We found that Comcast’s actions in this instance violated our principles.”
Martin said Comcast has “arbitrarily” blocked Internet access, regardless of the level of traffic, and failed to disclose to consumers that it was doing so. (Yahoo)
There’s a deeper problem at work in all of this. It’s the endless ongoing effort by the cable guys and telcos to artificially create bandwidth scarcity. The only real scarcity is in the capacity their last mile infrastructure, which they have continuously refused to adequately upgrade. The larger internet continues to scale up exponentially, with operating costs in a free fall moving closer to zero every day. At the risk of repeating myself: more competition in the last mile will fix the problem without FCC intervention.
I’ve long had the suspicion that the heartburn AT&T and the cable guys get from P2P is more about getting paid more for content delivery and avoiding the necessary investment in infrastructure to accommodate users demands. The fact is ISP revenue is up and the cost of capacity is in free fall. This makes providing more capacity at current prices levels very profitable, just not as profitable as raising prices without making new investments.
In the connected world, bandwidth capacity must continuously increase. At the same time we must find ways to do more with less. Anyone within minimal understanding of technology can look at P2P vs server to client content delivery will discover that P2P is an exponentially more efficient way of delivering a large file or stream. That takes us back to the debate about getting paid more to deliver content and avoiding new investment, which seems to be what the cable guys and the death star are really interested in.
Mark Wegleitner, Verizon’s senior vice president of technology agrees with me on the efficiency of P2P:
Peer-to-peer is a distribution enabler. But often when people talk about P2P, it gets lumped into a category with things that are bad, mainly because it takes up so much capacity on the network. But whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, there is underlying technology for P2P that can be used to everyone’s advantage to get content like video, which everyone is asking for, distributed in the most efficient way.
We conducted some tests with the P4P group and Yale University, and showed that customers have a better experience, and we use fewer resources, when we used the P2P technology. It’s really a win-win situation for us and the customer.(Cnet)
I’ve often postulated here that the cable guys are feeling threatened by streaming video. New web only original programming is becoming more common, and is taking some viewers from their closed systems. They’ve been heavy handed about “managing bittorrent” claiming it consumed 80% of its capacity to deliver illicit content. Not only is the claimed 80% out of line with reality, but the fact is legitimate programming from services like Revision3 and Joost are delivered via bittorrent and traffic is growing as more viewers discover them. In the last year, the cable guys’ premium content providers have begun to offer ad supported streams free to anyone with broadband access. People like consuming content on demand as opposed to on a schedule, prior success of the VCR and Tivo proves it. With greater convenience, more programming will eventually find a larger audience. With content going directly from producer to consume , the long term viability of the closed content distribution system model is not viable. In other words, the cable guys’ 150 channel set top box business will be on life support soon.
Naturally, the cable guys are not going down without a fight. While publicly, they have stated network management and tiered service levels are needed to evenly distribute scarce resources, it’s only a small part of the bigger picture:
….given the fact that the company (Comcast) previously promised that it only managed traffic during times of congestion, only to have those claims disproved, we might have to take the term “network congestion” with a grain of salt. Also unsettling is the fact that the company hasn’t revealed any further details about what constitutes a high-bandwidth user and how limited those users will be during times of congestion. If Comcast chooses to roll out this type of technology, it will have to be upfront with its customers about what the exact limitations are. And given the company’s secrecy throughout the Bit Torrent fiasco, I wouldn’t hold my breath for that kind of transparency.
So, we’ve established that while technically “neutral,” both Time Warner and Comcast’s new network management techniques are not without their share of issues. There is still, however, one very large elephant left in the room: the fact that both Comcast and Time Warner are cable television providers. And as we all know, despite the industry’s constant invocation of the P2P bogeyman, at present, the largest bandwidth hog is actually streaming video. Clearly, the emergence of online video is something that cable video providers find very threatening and by capping off bandwidth usage, they’re effectively killing two birds with one stone; discouraging users from using their Internet connections for video while increasing the efficiency of the network. Is this anti-competitive? It sure seems like it. But is it anti-neutral? Technically, no. While Time Warner and Comcast both deliver video and Internet service via the same pipe, the two services live on separate networks. (Public Knowledge)
I am sorry to repeat myself so often, but if the cable guys had any real competition, none of this would be happening.
While the average broadband user inthe UK fares better than his American counterpart, there is still little serious competition in fixed line access. Plus, the UK’s 2 wild and crazy guys can behave just as badly as ours. As further proof that a doupoly does not foster adequate competition to best serve the the public good, the UK cable monopoly is now mimicing the American one.
The decision follows recent regional testing of extended restrictions in London and the North West. Previously the brakes were only slammed on for five hours if limits were exceeded at any point between 4pm and 9pm.
Now, “M” customers who bust 900MB during the day will have their theoretical maximum download halved from 2Mbit/s to 1Mbit/s. “L” and “XL” users’ usual headline speeds of 10MBit/s and 20MBit/s will be slowed by three quarters if they break daytime download limits of 2400MB and 6000MB respectively.
The download thresholds for the daytime throttling period are double those of the evening period, which also restricts uploads.(The Register)
To Virgin’s credit they are investing in providing 50MBPS speeds and are spelling out how heavy users access will be throttled. I’m not giving them a pass, they are doing this purely because they can. With more competition Virgin would be building more capacity and managing users less. How do I know? Look to Paris. No provider there is throttling or complaining about heavy users. What makes Paris different is robust competiton.
Tony Werner, Comcast CTO says that his company will begin to manage heavy users during peak hours rather that protocols in this video interview with Cable Digitial News.
Obviously, if implemented, this will make a few who are most likely paying for higher level service tiers very unhappy. While efforts to more equitably manage existing capacity are understandable, they should not be done at the expense of creating more capacity. With new bandwidth intensive content and services coming daily the common user will consume more bits than last years heavy user very soon. Expanding capacity would be Comcast’s only option if we had real competition.