What would happen if people discovered that EXXON was routinely selling 43 octane gas at pumps labeled 87 octane? Or what if you paid for a 100mg prescription but only got 25mg, or a placebo? What industry is allowed to legally sell a smoke and mirrors service that it never, ever delivers? Thats right, its Broadband which explains why my Time Warner 30Mbps "Extreme Service" routinely fails to deliver a sustained or dependable 5Mbps speed for services such as YouTube and Netflix. 

When I call TWC customer service they blame "the Internet" but always end up trying to up-sell me, they claim I should upgrade (supersize) to a faster service tier, but wait, how does that fix "the Internet" when my connection speed already averages 19Mbps? OK, 19 is not 30, but its way more than the 5 required for Netfix HD, so where's the problem? 

The problem isn't the Internet, the problem is peering.

Basically, peering is the interconnection between an ISP, such as Time Warner, and the outside world such as YouTube. By not proactively or reactively investing in upgrades, peering connections become saturated or jammed which is why there is a growing mountain of evidence and escalating criticism from knowledgeable Internet professionals against the big ISPs obfuscation of their culpability. 

What most people don't know, is that peering regulations were specifically excluded from any net neutrality regulations. There was a poison peering pill lodged into the Open Internet Order of 2010 (net neutrality) regulations that AT&T and others lobbied hard to get. There were, and currently are, exactly zero regulations surrounding peering. So even if net neutrality hadn't been shot down by the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, it wouldn't change the problem we routinely experience today with Netflix and YouTube playback. 

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ISPs hide behind net neutrality "talking points" with factually accurate statements such as "unfettered access," and "we don't  throttle," claiming full compliance with the defunct Open Internet regulations while still leveraging unfair practices. The official Time Warner press release on the Verizon vs. FCC verdict stated: “Time Warner Cable has been committed to providing its customers the best service possible, including unfettered access to the web content and services of their choice. This commitment, which long precedes the FCC rules, will not be affected by today’s court decision.”

"Unfettered access" must be another way of saying "we'll leave our peering connections unfettered from any interference (such as upgrades)." Um, would you like to supersize your word salad? 

The peering deceit and denials have gotten so obvious that reports are now routinely popping up in conservative media such as in the Wall Street Journal's recent story "Netflix-Traffic Feud Leads to Video Slowdown" where they share that "Netflix Inc. subscribers have seen a lot more spinning wheels lately as they wait for videos to load...the long simmering conflict has heated up and is slowing Netflix..." According to the Journal, "People familiar with Cogent's and Netflix's thinking say the cable and telephone companies are delaying upgrading existing connections."

Time Magazine's recent page turner "Here’s Why Your Netflix Is Slowing Down - Financial disputes over peering are threatening the video service" claims "An escalating battle between Netflix and the largest Internet service providers is degrading service for the streaming video company’s customers, according to multiple reports."

Netflix's ISP report card clearly shows the falling rankings of big US ISPs placing the US just 0.02Mbps faster than Mexico in 11th place behind Colombia, Brazil and Chile and still falling. American exceptionalism? Not when it comes to ISPs--which begs for an explanation as to why republican FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly is opposed to any intervention by the FCC: “the FCC [should not] be devoting its resources to adopting new rules without any evidence that consumers are unable to access the content of their choice.”  I'm guessing Netflix works great in Washington DC thanks to upgraded ISP peering investments paid out of lobbying budgets.

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So why you might ask? Why would ISPs want to piss off their customers? Well, first off, they don't need to care about their customers, they're an unregulated monopoly. What they want is to charge customers for access to content AND charge content companies for access to customers, in other words, they want to get paid at both ends. To double dip--all the while waving the American flag of freedom for "a free Internet" visa-vie their so called compliance with net neutrality. Perhaps even more insidious is that they can effectively shape traffic though peering shenanigans to hijack customers away from innovative or competitive content into sub-par services they either own, or partner with. It's a win, win for big ISPs. In reality, isn't peering just a modern version of Payola?

You'll hear big ISPs claim that regulation will stifle innovation and competition. Lets try a thought experiment; pretend for a moment you're a small media startup. Unless you can successfully negotiate reasonable terms, sign deals, and pay protection money to every single Internet Service Provider across the US (what is that, hundreds, perhaps thousands of them? How many business development employees will that take?) you'll be hard pressed to succeed when your video streams choke due to the jammed-up peering backwater relegated to non-payers. The lack of net neutrality regulation is exactly what will kill innovation for all but the Time Warner's of the world--and we all know how "innovative" they are.

Worse than the nightmare that content companies might face, is what you the customer will likely face once the cable TV / ISP companies are free of all regulation. Broadband fees? Data caps? That's just for starters. How about access tiers, just like the ones cable already impose on their television service. Buzzfeed has nicely illustrated this potential in their "Net neutrality nightmare scenario" shown below.

A little over four weeks after Verizon's death blow to the FCC's enforcement of net neutrality, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said he intends to move forward with new rules on blocking Internet traffic or discriminating against content providers. Unless these new rules address peering practices in a meaningful way, the FCC should save us all the trouble and turn the reins over to the two republican FCC commissioners Mike O’Rielly and Ajit Pai whose analysis was summed up in his public comment  “Net neutrality has always been a solution in search of a problem.” 

Well, the search results are in. Problem found. 

Posted
AuthorRichard Cardran