Internet traffic congestion real, but sporadic, study says

In some cases, congestion has lasted for months at a time or for most of a day, the study says

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management

Complaints by Netflix and Internet backbone providers about network traffic congestion point to a real problem, with congestion on some networks lasting 18 hours a day, but the problems are sporadic and often temporary, according to preliminary results from a traffic study.

Traffic congestion at interconnection points between broadband providers and backbone providers doesn't appear to be widespread, with congestion often just two or three hours a day, said David Clark, a senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and one of the researchers investigating congestion complaints.

But in some cases, U.S. ISPs have experienced periods of congestion on interconnection points with backbone providers that last for months at a time, Clark said Wednesday. Still, many of the problems of congestion seem to point to disagreements over business arrangements related to mismatches between network capacity and demand, he said during a congressional briefing on traffic congestion.

In recent months, Netflix and backbone providers Cogent and Level 3 have accused U.S. broadband providers of purposefully allowing congestion into their networks as a way to charge Internet video services for carrying their traffic. Last week, U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said his agency is looking into the complaints.

The ongoing congestion study, by MIT and the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis at the University of California's San Diego (UCSD) Supercomputer Center, is preliminary and doesn't assign fault for congestion, but it does point to a poor experience for ISP customers and Netflix, said Clark, involved in the development of the Internet since the 1970s.

Clark didn't call for new FCC regulations, but he said the agency's attention is warranted. "It may be appropriate for the FCC to clear its throat and say, 'what's going on here?'" he said. In some cases, "this has been going on for months."

Representatives of Netflix and the cable broadband industry both said the study supports their positions on who's to blame for the congestion.

The study's results are consistent with ISPs' position that Netflix has routed its traffic through congested interconnection points in order to increase its bargaining power for traffic carriage by ISPs, said Ike Elliot, senior vice president of strategy for CableLabs, a research organization funded by cable broadband providers.

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