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2/6/2014
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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, NC, where he encourages innovation through better business technology and process. Asheville is a rapidly growing and popular city; it has been named a Fodor top travel destination, and is the site of ... View Full Bio

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jries921
IW Pick
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jries921,
User Rank: Moderator
2/7/2014 | 1:29:55 PM
Obvious slowdowns
It's true that deliberately slowing down third party packets will be hard to hide, but I don't think that's the point.  All that's required is deniability plausible enough that proof is hard, but not so plausible that service owners don't know who to pay off or who not to offend (organized crime bosses have been doing that for decades).


And I don't think complex rules are required to enforce net neutrality.  All that's required is one sentence in an Act of Congress forbidding ISPs from prioritizing network traffic on the basis of who sent it and a couple of more sentences spelling out the penalties.  ISPs would continue to be able to sell bandwidth as they've always done.  And ISPs could continue to prioritize on the basis of protocol, as they've always done.


And as you note, it's not hard to deduce when collusion is in progress or when particular users are being deliberately slowed down.  That would make it easier to enforce such a law.

 
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
2/7/2014 | 1:26:37 PM
Re: I hope carriers win
I'm not sure your analogy helps your case.
AndujarC438
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AndujarC438,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/7/2014 | 12:49:59 PM
I hope carriers win
How irrational to root for Netflix over the carriers. It demonstrates the ignorance of basic business principles. If you want more and faster internet you need building the internet to show a profit. If the internet is a pipe then Netflix gets to dump as much water into that pipe without any charge. You will never get massive building of bigger pipes with that model. Just like rent control stymies construction and leads to shortages of housing and dilapted housing that does exist. 

The author displays a stunning ignorance. 
Somedude8
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Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
2/7/2014 | 12:46:26 PM
Greed Trumps All
The mortgage meltdown wasn't because our country suddenly spawned thousands and thousands of corrupt and greedy people, it was because the tempation was too great.

The tempation is far too great for ISPs to not throttle. Franlky, I find it almost ludicrouse that people would think that ISPs won't start acting in a way that they see as 'monetizing their existing investment'. Maybe not this morning, maybe not even next week. But very soon, if not already, we will absolutely see the major ISPs dipping their toes in the water. Too much temption not to.
Whoopty
IW Pick
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
2/7/2014 | 9:58:49 AM
Dinosaurs
Services like Netflix are revolutionising the entertainment industry and ISPs would be far smarter to get onboard with it and help push it forward, rather than trying to limit it simply because it uses a lot of bandwidth. 
jfeldman
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jfeldman,
User Rank: Strategist
2/7/2014 | 8:18:30 AM
Broadband test data via FCC
In case you're looking for actual data (not hyperbole, not conjecture, but data) about real broadband speeds, you can find it here, at the FCC's "Measuring Broadband America" report.  (This uses SamKnows technology that I refer to above).  Enjoy--  http://www.fcc.gov/measuring-broadband-america
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Ninja
2/6/2014 | 9:12:30 PM
Net neutrality may not be free
I read the Washington Post story about David Raphael yesterday and didn't automatically conclude Verizon was slowing AWS traffic. But the finger of suspicion pointed in that direction, once the Verizon service rep said it was. Let's keep testing, as Raphael did, for the possible reality of such an action, just in case. The price of freedom (or in this case, net neutrality) is vigilance.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
2/6/2014 | 5:20:18 PM
Re: Reaping what they've sown
Oh, I absolutely do!
jfeldman
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jfeldman,
User Rank: Strategist
2/6/2014 | 5:18:28 PM
Re: Reaping what they've sown
Unbundling... you know you want it. :-D
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
2/6/2014 | 4:59:34 PM
Reaping what they've sown
Just the fact that so many smart, technically knowledgeable people are MORE than ready to believe Verizon is throttling Netflix (and it could as easily have been Cox or Comcast as Verizon) is pretty telling in itself.

As another commenter pointed out, when one is a monopoly, one acts as a monopoly. Carriers' customer attitudes range from "meh" to outright hatred. When's the last time anyone raved about their cable service? All it will take is a few cases where the smoking gun is real and the mainstream media explains the issue in a way the masses get, and I predict the cries for blood will get deafening.
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