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OTT Providers Pointing Fingers When Connections Are Slow

The new blame game is partly a result of the FCC's proposed Net Neutrality rules.

New York — The landscape for over-the-top (OTT) services has become so competitive that, in order to retain subscribers unhappy with buffering wait times or frozen images on screen, they are quickly (and quite publically) blaming the Internet Service Provider (ISP). Some of the largest, including Google’s YouTube and Netflix are naming names: like Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon.

According to a report on the website Quartz, Google is providing a link to a dedicated website that shows video playback quality for ISPs in various countries. The idea is that the customer will complain to the ISP, not the content provider or OTT service. Netflix also freely offers its “ISP Speed Index” to show which IPS is the slowest in the 20 countries it serves.

As soon as a video on YouTube runs into trouble displaying, a message appears that reads “Experiencing interruptions?” in a blue bar underneath the video. Clicking “find out why” brings you to Google’s Video Index Report and even suggests a way to locate a faster connection.

Quartz said the new blame game is partly a result of the FCC’s newly proposed ‘Net Neutrality rules, which protect against an ISP slowing down connections to certain services and not others, who might be paying extra for more bandwidth. Interestingly, in May, the government proposed new rules that would allow companies to pay for faster connections. The proposal would, though, prohibit ISPs from blocking websites altogether. The website said ISPs would like to see more of the responsibility placed on video services like YouTube and Netflix.

Google’s Video Index Report helps subscribers locate a faster connection.

Netflix is also making sure subscribers understand where the data flow is coming from. Users often see “The Verizon network is crowded right now,” when video playback was slow. Verizon, Quartz said, called the online message “deliberately misleading” and even threatened to sue in court. In a blog post, Netflix defended the strategy:

“… we started a small scale test in early May that lets consumers know, while they’re watching Netflix, that their experience is degraded due to a lack of capacity into their broadband provider’s network,” the June 9 blog, written by Joris Evers, a member of the Netflix Communications team, states. “We are testing this across the U.S. wherever there is significant and persistent network congestion. This test is scheduled to end on June 16. We will evaluate rolling it out more broadly.

“Some broadband providers argue that our actions, and not theirs, are causing a degraded Netflix experience,” the online open letter says. “Netflix does not purposely select congested routes. We pay some of the world’s largest transit networks to deliver Netflix video right to the front door of an ISP. Where the problem occurs is at that door—the interconnection point—when the broadband provider hasn’t provided enough capacity to accommodate the traffic their customer requested.

“Some large US ISPs are erecting toll booths, providing sufficient capacity for services requested by their subscribers to flow through only when those services pay the toll. In this way, ISPs are double dipping by getting both their subscribers and Internet content providers to pay for access to each other. We believe these ISP tolls are wrong because they raise costs, stifle innovation and harm consumers. ISPs should provide sufficient capacity into their network to provide consumers the broadband experience for which they pay.”

As of June, Netflix stopped displaying the accusatory messages.

Until the ‘Net neutrality rules are set in stone, and the FCC adequately enforces them to ensure adequate download speeds for all, consumers will continue to have different experiences in different markets. It’s similar to the poorer HD image quality coming from cable vs. the same HD signal delivered over-the-air. Cable operators adjust the data rates of certain channels to improve the quality of other, more high profile ones. Only subscriber complaints have helped in this regard.

Competition (and, unfortunately, money) will decide who gets the most bandwidth, FCC rules be damned.