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Here’s why Netflix streaming quality has nosedived over the past few months

Published Feb 19th, 2014 1:45PM EST
Why Is Netflix Streaming Slow

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Have your Netflix streams been much more laggy or choppy in recent months? If so then you’re not alone. As The Wall Street Journal shows, Netflix streaming quality has tanked at multiple major ISPs since this past October and much of it stems from behind-the-scenes wrangling over who will pick up the tab for all the added traffic demand Netflix’s services are generating.

According to one of the Journal’s sources, “within the past four to six months, Netflix traffic through Cogent’s connections to one major broadband provider has at least quadrupled” in good part because Netflix has expanded its Super HD streaming service to all of its customers. This has led ISPs to demand some extra cash from Netflix that will be used to help ISPs speed up their networks to meet traffic demand. Netflix, meanwhile, “wants broadband companies to hook up to its new video-distribution network without paying them fees for carrying its traffic,” the Journal writes.

What this really boils down to, explains Ars Technica’s Jon Brodkin, is a dispute over peering. Most of the time, ISPs and bandwidth providers such as Cogent Communications have peering agreements to swap traffic with one another without any additional charge. However, ISPs apparently think the rise of video streaming over their networks has upset the balance that peering agreements have traditionally struck which is why they’re trying to change things up.

“When one party’s getting all the benefit and the other’s carrying all the cost, issues will arise,” Verizon head of public policy Craig Silliman tells the Journal.

Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t note that ISPs such as Time Warner Cable have been very public about dragging their feet on aggressively upgrading the quality of their networks and they’ve repeatedly said that most of their customers don’t “need” super-fast Internet connections. While that might have been true in the past, the rise of Netflix and other streaming services means that things are about to change very quickly for ISPs. While they may be right that Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are putting greater strains on their networks, they can’t say they weren’t warned.

Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.

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