Despite the faster speeds now being pushed through fiber and DOCSIS 3.0, there's many users who continue to suffer from the inability to quickly and consistently stream YouTube videos. Spend a few minutes in any of our forums and you'll find this is a universal problem with many carriers, including AT&T U-Verse
, Verizon FiOS
and Time Warner Cable
. Blame and speculation are rampant, but actual factual causes have been hard to come by.
Is it due to CDN problems? Peering imbalances and feuds
? DNS issues? Is it the ISPs' fault or is the problem with Google's caching servers stored on the ISP network (which ISPs have no access to)? Does using an alternative DNS operator help? There's not limit of theories, but a lack of real answers. With that in mind, Ars Technica
waded into the swamp and has offered up a major piece
that tries to get to the bottom of the issue.
While the landscape is complicated, Ars primarily blames greed and more aggressive gatekeeper negotiations tactics on the degraded YouTube performance, using examples like Verizon and Cogent's recent fight over peering
as exhibit A. In that case, Cogent claimed Verizon was letting their peering points with Cogent saturate, resulting in Netflix performance issues for many Verizon DSL and FiOS customers.
We've witnessed similar fights between companies like Comcast and Level 3
, where Level 3 claimed that Comcast was taking things to a new level -- and adding entirely new fees on top of longstanding peering agreements. The problem is that these companies keep the details of much of their agreements secret, so clear, objective data on who is to blame for what can be hard to come by.
Still, consumer advocates claim major ISPs are using their massive last-mile leverage to demand more money from other tier 1 operators, and ultimately some additional money from Netflix. Verizon has been criticized specifically for letting Netflix and YouTube traffic degrade on their network, given they're now running their own streaming service with Red Box. If you've been following along at home the last decade
, using your gatekeeper power to impose new tolls and force content companies to pay to ride "your pipes" is what the network neutrality fight has been about all along.
Some hope that as ISPs get more into over the top video, they're less likely to erect tolls, jack up costs for everyone, and engage in the kind of stream choking that's resulting in your YouTube videos not loading well:
Felten holds out hope that ISPs will become less likely to war with each other as they embrace over-the-top content—meaning the delivery of streaming video to any customer, even those who don't subscribe to the ISP's Internet service. ISPs that sell video outside their own networks will become just like Netflix and need other Internet companies to accept their traffic, the argument goes. They won't be able to throttle third-party traffic if they're worried about those same third parties throttling their own, Felten said.
Though not everyone shares this kind of optimism, and running their own OTA service clearly didn't seem to deter Verizon in their fight with Cogent. With agreement details secret and internal performance data closely guarded by major ISPs, if a company like Verizon wanted to engage in this kind of behavior, much of the proof would be obscured from view, letting them blame everything from the congestion bogeyman to parrot migrations.
Ars proposes several other reasons for degraded YouTube performance, including problems caused by ad networks and the loading of ads. But the primary reason that your YouTube connection stutters despite the fact that you're on a 50 Mbps connection? There's a quiet network neutrality war and cash grab going on behind the scenes between incumbent ISPs, tier 1 operators, and over the top video companies. As always, you and your wallet get to stand right smack dab in the middle of it.