Verizon May Suck A Lot, Or Only A Little Less Than A Lot. But I Think Netflix is the Problem.

This story at arstechnica lays out some ambiguous broadband stats from Netflix about various ISP’s deliverance of our video feeds to our house.

In my house we’ve noticed in recent months that we can rarely watch Netflix, delivered through our first generation Roku, even after I moved the router into the same room (about 20 feet apart).

And that comes after years of perfectly fine service. Somehow the system is getting worse.

At first, the chart in the article suggests that Verizon (and Comcast) are throttling performance, but the evidence for that doesn’t seem to exist (though Verizon’s recent net neutrality victory is grist for the throttling mill, and a warning of what could happen if our internet pipes aren’t protected from pipe-holder taxation.)

What I know for sure is that Netflix relentlessly tries to deliver a HD signal into my house. My HD TV loves that, but my contract with Verizon is for a fairly modest bandwidth (3mb down, 1mb up, the max their system can somewhat reliably deliver). Whenever we watch Netflix, we have to set the program up and then wait either a long or an interminable amount of time for Netflix to figure out that we don’t have the throughput to handle the signal they want us to have. Once we go from HD four dots to two dots, based on their evaluation, we can watch our TV, usually without problem.

But this transition always takes a stupid amount of time. WE DON’T HAVE THE BANDWIDTH FOR HD, we scream, but Netflix can spend scores of minutes trying to pump the HD our way. And does not seem to memorize our settings, nor allow us to set our own (gimme gimme gimme two dots!)

Tonight we waited nearly a half hour (doing other things, too, we’re not hopeless) waiting for Netflix to tamp down our usage rate so we could watch our show, and then quit because it didn’t happen.

Netflix used to tamp down bandwidth rates with great agility. I’ve read articles about how they maximized flexibility, and valued their ability to reduce their bandwidth footprint, but that no longer seems to be the case. I want to blame Verizon for this, since they offer fairly crappy service on my block, but I think the greater problem is that Netflix for some reason no longer values that elastic delivery.

They want to deliver HD even if you’re not capable of receiving it, and that’s screwing up my watching of Season 5 of Breaking Bad. I dislike Verizon, but it seems that Netflix is the one who can fix this problem.

Update: It looks like Netflix agrees the problem isn’t Verizon.

Update (February 22): It looks like Ars Technica now thinks the problem is Verizon, demanding substantial peering payments.

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