Netflix rates broadband providers by bandwidth

Have you wondered how your ISP stacks up against the competition when it comes to delivering streaming video to your home?

Have you wondered how your Internet Service Provider stacks up against the competition when it comes to delivering streaming video to your home? It seems Netflix has been wondering, too, so today it launched what will be a monthly feature at its tech blog comparing average bit rate speeds of major ISPs in the United States and Canada.

The first installment of the feature shows Charter leading all U.S. ISPs with an average speed of consistently over 2600 kbps from October 2010 to Jan. 15 of this year. Comcast finished second in the running with a speed slightly under 2600 kbps for the period. No U.S. provider, though, came close to Canada's Rogers which averaged 3020 kbps for the time frame.

At the bottom of the heap were Clearwire, Frontier and CenturyTel -- all with speeds in the 1400 to 1600 kbps range.

As Netflix streams more and more movies and TV shows to homes over the Internet, it is in a unique position to measure the performance of hundreds of millions of long duration, high-definition video streams, Netflix Director of Content Delivery Ken Florence explained at the company's tech blog.

"The throughput we are able to achieve with these streams can tell us a great deal about the actual capacity our subscribers are able to sustain to their homes," he added.

He noted that Netflix's top HD stream is about 4800 kbps, although the actual bit rate for the stream would vary while viewing video from the service. Nevertheless, he continued, streaming performance can be an interesting way to measure the quality of Netflix streaming that the ISP is providing a subscriber.

"Obviously, this can vary by network technology (e.g. DSL, Cable), region, etc., but it's a great high-level view of Netflix performance across a large number of individual streaming sessions," he said.

The report on ISP performance comes a day after Netflix sent a letter to its shareholders knocking ISPs that add charges for delivery of Netflix feeds to their subscribers. "Today, some ISPs charge us, or our CDN partners, to let in the bits their customers have requested from us, and we think this is inappropriate," the letter said. "As long as we pay for getting the bits to the regional interchanges of the ISP's choosing, we don't think they should be able to use their exclusive control of their residential customers to force us to pay them to let in the data their customers' desire."

"Their customers already pay them to deliver the bits on their network, and requiring us to pay even though we deliver the bits to their network is an inappropriate reflection of their last mile exclusive control of their residential customers," it added.

In the letter, Netflix also called the Federal Communication Commission's recent rules on net neutrality for wired ISPs "a step in the right direction." But it added, "The focus is on fair-play within an ISP's network, but does not explicitly address entry into the ISP's network."

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Tags broadbandvideosoftwareapplicationstelecommunicationnetflixClearwirecomcastcableCenturyTelPhoto / videomusic & video sharingNetworking & WirelessRogers CommunicationsCharterFrontier

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John P. Mello Jr.

PC World (US online)
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