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Storm Clouds on the Last Mile Horizon

February 11th, 2014 by · Leave a Comment

Last week Stacey Higgenbotham over at GigaOm suggested that something is fishy in the world of last mile bandwidth. With the latest Netflix ISP speed index data, it sure is looking like she’s onto something.

Netflix’s measurements strongly suggest that OTT throughput to customers of a swath of major ISPs has dropped by as much as a third over the past four months. The chart shows nearly all providers with steady upward momentum since the start of 2013.  But since mid-autumn Google Fiber, Cox, and Cablevision have maintained their steady upward momentum while Verizon (both FIOS and DSL), AT&T, Comcast, and several others have faltered pretty dramatically.   While there is always variability in such data, there appears to be a clear divergence going on.

But there’s no smoking gun, unless you count the ‘admission‘ of throttling by a Verizon customer support guy who wouldn’t have known.  But whether or not there is something deliberate going on or we’re just looking at some coincidental peering congestion that will work itself out, it’s only a matter of time before a net neutrality war breaks out over it.

With the FCC’s recent net neutrality loss in court, the relatively peaceful interlude we’ve experienced for the past four years in US bandwidth markets is clearly over. Sooner or later a case of likely throttling or outright blocking will hit the mainstream media, and all the unresolved disagreements between consumers, telcos, cables, public advocates, regulators, and media will come to a head.

I still think former FCC chair Julius Genachowski was buying time with the rules he implemented, knowing they wouldn’t hold up for long but hoping that by the time the courts struck them down a consensus might have emerged. But while there have been some signs of movement, no such consensus is in sight.  Whether there is anything deliberate behind the speeds Netflix is measuring or not, having OTT wireline throughput actually *falling* in an era of unstoppable overall bandwidth growth is an ominous sign.

Categories: Cable · Internet Traffic · ISPs

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