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2/6/2014
12:55 PM
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Why Carriers Won't Win War On Netflix

Simmer down, Net neutrality doomsayers. We can expect carriers to experiment with traffic impairment, but we can also expect them to fail.

It was only a matter of time. The simmer surrounding the hyped "death of Net neutrality" escalated to a boil Wednesday when a blogger who works for a cloud startup claimed that Verizon is now using the opportunity to "wage war against Netflix" and other content providers.

The blog writer, David Raphael, claimed that traffic to and from his Amazon Web Services infrastructure was much slower on his Verizon connection than it was on another carrier's connection. Raphael said he measured performance in a number of different ways, and that by using the time honored rule-in/rule-out methodology, established that Verizon was the problem. Raphael said he had a conversation with a Verizon customer service rep (he posted a screenshot of that chat on his blog) in which he asked point blank: "Is Verizon now limiting bandwidth to cloud providers like AWS?" To which the Verizon rep allegedly replied: "Yes, it is limiting bandwidth to cloud providers." Raphael said he went a step further, asking the rep: "This is why my Netflix is bad now?" To which the rep allegedly replied: "Yes."

Verizon denied the claim -- particularly that a Verizon rep admitted to the blogger that the carrier slows down AWS and other cloud services -- using standard corporate double-talk. In a statement reported by The Washington Post, Verizon said:

We treat all traffic equally, and that has not changed. Many factors can affect the speed of 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're going to redouble our representative education efforts on this topic.

Yes, in the future we will tell our customer reps not to rat us out, and craft specific punishments for doing so.

To be fair, it's not entirely clear whether the blogger was experiencing peering congestion or true rate limiting. You can't tell without more rigorous testing than the blogger was able to do. But under-the-covers traffic management is a common practice of any network operator.

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Whether or not the blogger or Verizon is telling the truth, there's still no reason to believe that the Internet as we know it is about to melt down because of the end of Net neutrality rules, which had forbidden carriers from giving certain kinds of content preferential treatment over other kinds until a court overturned those rules last month. Moreover, enacting stifling new regulations won't help and may harm carrier competition.

As our friends in the application performance management world have taught us, we live in a highly testable and transparent Internet world, and unless there's massive collusion among backbone providers, it's going to be pretty darned obvious when someone is intentionally slowing down traffic from specific content providers.

It's all "comparative anatomy." That is, if you simulate traffic from Netflix (or any other provider of Big Content) coming from one endpoint, and simulate "carrier traffic" from another, and "carrier traffic" is doing fine but Netflix isn't, you have an impairment. (In practice, the test would be a bit more complicated, but that's the general idea.)

As soon as I read Raphael's blog post, I predicted we'll see a new service serving the content industry: performance monitoring of carriers. Just you watch. There's already a project that uses consumer endpoints to monitor bandwidth for the FCC, among other agencies. It's just a question of whether existing APM service vendors such as Keynote and Gomez will tweak their software for this specific use, whether a startup will jump on it, or whether content juggernauts such as Netflix, Apple, and Google will roll their own performance monitoring into various datacenters and millions of viewing endpoints nationwide. (Interestingly, since I first read the blog post, Raphael's company has come up with a Net neutrality testing tool.

The bottom line is this: Even if Verizon or any other carrier hasn't tried to impede bandwidth-hogging traffic in this post-Net-neutrality world, the carriers will likely experiment with it. Would they be wolves if they left lambs alone? But they're not going to be able to get away with it because testing is relatively easy, content providers have deep pockets, and we have antitrust laws that address anticompetitive behavior.

And so begins another arms race. Settle down for amusing and interesting times. Just know that the Internet ain't melting down anytime soon.

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Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human ... View Full Bio

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rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
2/12/2014 | 2:41:25 PM
Re: The Real issue - True Competition
One more thing is needed.  We need to make sure the leading oil producers don't collude and buy the car companies, tire companies and auto parts companies.  Likewise, it's bad that content delivery companies own content-creating companies.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
2/12/2014 | 2:34:04 PM
Re: I hope carriers win
I don't think anyone is suggesting rent control.  We're suggesting adequate oversight and enforcement to guarantee that property is rented to everyone regardless of race, creed, gender, sexual preference or economic status.  If they can pay the rent, they get the property.  The rental agreement should be standarized to ensure the interests of both parties are protected and renters should feel safe that the building manager cannot tamper with the delivery of services to extort favors (whatever that might be).

What's also being suggested is that we don't want a single "Mr. Potter" slumlord owning all the property.  We prefer many different property owners competing for renters.  This would naturally keep the properties updated and prices fair.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
2/12/2014 | 2:17:20 PM
Re: Collusion or Conglomeration? ISPs are regional monopolies. Get the Fiber Rollout on track
"Satellite requires a massive investment in infrastructure (the dish, the dish's "modem," and a dialup modem for upstream)."

 

Satellite-based HSI has been using two-way groundstations for quite a while.  Are you sure they are still deploying modems for the upstream path?
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
2/11/2014 | 2:25:01 PM
Re: The Real issue - True Competition
Absolutely true. The difference in Comcast service around my area in the PF (pre-FIOS) versus AF (after-FIOS) eras was stunning. Suddenly, Comcast really, really liked me! Those yearly price increases? Thing of the past! You want to know within 20 minutes when the tech will get to your house? No problemo!

 
J_Brandt
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J_Brandt,
User Rank: Ninja
2/11/2014 | 12:25:41 PM
The Real issue - True Competition
In order to achieve true net neutrality is to have true competition for Internet access.  When the average consumer has only one choice for that access, then the carriers rule.  Their customer service consists of what they need to do to get by.  I think that if consumers had real choice, and could easily switch providers, then the carriers would be forced to provide real customer service.  The issue of carriers throttling service evaporates as they fight to provide the best Netflix (or insert name of service here) fearing customer defections to carriers who provide better access.
kadawson
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kadawson,
User Rank: Author
2/10/2014 | 5:34:33 PM
Re: I hope carriers win
You want to gift carriers with still more profit on top of their already obscene levels? Do you think that they will then feel the "incentive" to build bigger pipes? It hasn't worked since 1995 when they began siphoning hundreds of billions out of the economy into their bottom lines, and ignored stipulations and their own pomises to plow profits back into infrastructure. What has changed since then? Only that the carriers have gotten bigger, more consolidated, and bolder. Read Bruce Kushnick.
ATotalBlamBlam
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ATotalBlamBlam,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/10/2014 | 11:55:48 AM
Internet Must Go
In order to support the net neutrality effort, it's important that people keep up to date on the issue. If anyone needs a refresher on the basics, here's this great short mockumentary: http://www.theinternetmustgo.com/
anon5595567285
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anon5595567285,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/7/2014 | 4:36:07 PM
Re: I hope carriers win
No, NetFix doesn't pay but all it's customers do. I pay over $70 a month to Time Warner for just internet service for my home and I don't have any other worthwhile choice to pick from if they start limiting so yes I want the gov to prevent them from having that capability since they basically have a monopoly on service around here.  If they want to play in the game then they can play fair and equal with everyone esle.  That isn't ignorance of basic business principals!  Building out their infrastructure is done buy sacraficing a little profit to maintain the system their customers want.  Maybe they should try to keep their customers happy before they try to keep their stock holders happy!

 The local telephone companies version is pathetically slow in this area and not much better than a 56k modem. 
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
2/7/2014 | 1:38:46 PM
Re: I hope carriers win
and the principle of net neutrality would not stop ISPs from offering metered service or imposing limits on the total number of data transmitted in a given period of time.  Vendors do those things now.

 
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
2/7/2014 | 1:35:56 PM
Re: I hope carriers win
Netflix does have to pay its own ISP; its customers have to pay theirs, and those ISPs have to pay their backbone providers using the money they get from their customers.


But I don't have to directly pay ISPs all over the world to make sure traffic to my wife's website isn't lower priority than someone else's and neither should Netflix.

 
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