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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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User Rank: Apprentice
2/6/2014 | 3:07:54 PM
Collusion or Conglomeration? ISPs are regional monopolies. Get the Fiber Rollout on track
"unless there's massive collusion among backbone providers"


you mean like the type of collusion that occurs when Time Warner buys AOL?  or when Comcast buys Time Warner?


its the trajectory that pushes the industry towards the type of monopolistic practices of the telecom giant era.  What happens when the other ISPs have to follow suite to compete?


and while there is competition amongst ISPs at the national level, there is limited or zero competition at the regional level, especially when you consider different levels of service.


residential customers are, effectively, at the whim of a regional monopoly..... you live in city A?  then your ISP == Cox.  You live in city B?  then your ISP == Comcast.

while alternatives - such as myriad small dialup/DSL providers that utilize the preexisting copper telephone infrastructure, satellite/phone (down/up), and cellular broadband - exist for residential customers, they don't compete with the regional ISP's level of service.

small dialup/DSL providers cant compete with the services offered through coaxial copper (Cable) or fiber to the curb from an ISP like Comcast or Verizon.  Satellite requires a massive investment in infrastructure (the dish, the dish's "modem," and a dialup modem for upstream).  Cellular broadband requires an investment in infrastructure (your smartphone or modem) and the usage costs are enormous.


BTW:  the real solution is to get the ISPs in gear and to roll out fiber for real.  not the miniscule roll out to a select few regions.  Roll it out everywhere.

Fiber infrastructure throughout the US will effectively eliminate the need for congestion related throttling because the overall network bandwidth will increase by at least two orders of magnitude.

it wont become an issue again until people have 8k or 12k 3D streams and holographic video games.
User Rank: Apprentice
2/6/2014 | 2:21:30 PM
net neutrality carriers will win.
i think you have missed the point compleatly.. its not bandwidth... its fees...

the carriers can and you can bet will double dip.. they will charge the content providers and the comsumers a fee for better bandwidth and in some cases even which content they will deliever.  

they already have the patents and the means to do it.. and have for several years.. the internet will become only a place for those that can afford it.. 

like sat tv and cable you ll get to pick a package. and i am sure you ll love paying for the channel that gives you a wall so you can watch paint dry.. 

the fcc should make all carriers common carriers.. and let the state puc's regulate them.  pots is almost gone and then when wire lines are totally gone they will charge and provide what ever they want for what ever they want.

look at NJ.. some of those hit hardest by the storms will not have any wire lines replaced.  its already a done deal in one of them. 


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