Level 3 confirms what we already knew: our ISPs suck

Credit: Source: theasci.org

A couple of weeks back I wrote about Netflix having to pay Comcast in order to provide good streaming service to its customers. Later Netflix announced a similar deal with Verizon.

You might think Netflix is a special case; after all we're often hearing stories about what a large percentage of internet traffic is composed of Netflix streams. (In November 2012, CNET said Netflix accounts for a third of peak time traffic; in November of 2013 AllThingsD said Netflix and YouTube combined account for 50% of traffic.)

But a blog post from Level 3 VP Mark Taylor paints a different picture. Level 3 is one of the major internet providers that probably doesn't come to your door. Instead, traffic starts at a remote data center, travels through Level 3's network, and is then handed off to your ISP's network, who routes the data to your house. Consider Level 3 the 'long haul truckers' and your ISP as the local deliveryman. That's my layman's interpretation of what happens, anyway; the blog post explains it all much more thoroughly.

When that hand-off between Level 3 and your ISP happens, there's the potential for a bottleneck. When that starts to happen, Level 3 and the ISP both have to upgrade the connection so the data can flow without interruption. According to Mark Taylor's blog post there are six peers (other providers that Level 3 interfaces with) that have had a major bottleneck for over a year. He defines this as 90% saturated, which leads to dropped packets and degraded performance. The six companies in question have chosen not to increase their capacity, preferring to let their customers' internet connection suffer.

Taylor doesn't name any names, unfortunately, but says:

Five of those congested peers are in the United States and one is in Europe. There are none in any other part of the world. All six are large Broadband consumer networks with a dominant or exclusive market share in their local market. In countries or markets where consumers have multiple Broadband choices (like the UK) there are no congested peers.

Frustrating, isn't it? Once again, you and I are getting screwed by our ISPs and most of us have no options. Note the bit about all six of the ISPs Taylor is talking about having a dominant or exclusive market share in their market.

I wish Taylor had named names but he did leave some clues. He mentions that the companies he is referencing rank 'dead last in customer satisfaction across all industries' according to the 2013 American Customer Satisfaction Index. If you head over to theacsi.org and look at the Benchmark by Industry and select Internet Service Providers, the bottom five (remember one of the six is in the UK) are Comcast, Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink, Charter Communications & AT&T U-Verse. Generally speaking ISP's have the lowest rating (65) with only Subscription Television Services (68) and Internet Social Media (68) being close.

Are these the ISPs that Taylor is talking about? We can't be sure but it seems likely (it's possible there are other ISPs lumped into the "All Others" category with lower scores). As GI Joe says: "Now you know, and knowing is half the battle." I'm just not sure what the other half is. Personally I feel pretty helpless when it comes to anything to do with ISPs.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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