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Summary:

It looks like Comcast and Netflix have resolved their peering dispute, but it’s unclear how. Comcast customers should rejoice because the quality of their video streams should get better.

Cables at an Equinix facility.
photo: Jordan Novet

Consumers’ troubles with online video may be subsiding — at least for Comcast customers. Comcast and Netflix appear to have resolved their differences over network peering, which has frustrated many Netflix users over the last few months with slow, intermittent service as a result of the dispute over the business of interconnecting networks.

Bryan Berg, a co-founder of App.net, posted a traceroute on Github Friday showing traffic data between Netflix and Comcast that appears to show the two companies have come to some sort of direct interconnection agreement (hat tip to Dan Gillmor who noticed the Berg post.). Multiple sources in the industry said that interpretation is correct, but declined to comment further. One source noted that it was a recent development. The two firms are peering in the Equinix San Jose data center, based on the traceroute.

The first question is if this is a paid peering agreement or a settlement-free agreement, where both sides agree to exchange traffic for free. Peering is an arrangement between two bandwidth providers — the companies that control the physical backbone of the internet — in which they send and receive traffic from each other for free. The logic is that the traffic sent from one network to another is reciprocated without adding extra costs and hurdles. This makes the web more efficient and redundant because companies don’t need to build out a network to connect every single service to every person who wants to consume that service.

But as a few dominant content providers have become the top sources of content on the internet, and the question of how online video will affect networks has grown more complicated, the conversations around peering became more about business as opposed to engineering. This has led to disputes and a poor quality broadband experience for consumers. Comcast customers have been loudly complaining that their Netflix streams were slow during prime time, for example.

Neither Netflix nor Comcast could be reached for comment about the deal.

This deal marks a detente of sorts in the peering and interconnection battles that Netflix has faced with at least one ISP.

There are two ways of interpreting this news. The first is that Netflix, worried about the threat of the FCC dismantling network neutrality and allowing ISPs to start charging content providers for delivering their traffic, decided to make a deal early when it could get lower prices. The second is the opposite; that Comcast, trying to appear benevolent as it seeks to create the largest broadband provider in the country via a merger with Time Warner Cable, peered with Netflix to avoid regulators asking tough questions.

Regulators should ask them anyway.

Github Comcast Netflix peering agreement traceroute

(This story was updated several times Friday afternoon as more information became available.)

comcast-netflix-ticker

  1. It’s completely in Comcast’s interest to play nice until the merger is approved. It might make the FCC terms less onerous. I’m sure once the deal is approved, Netflix traffic will tank again. Comcast might even pay Verizon to get them to stop making ISPs look bad during the merger negotiation.

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  2. nslookup of 198.45.63.164 gives ipv4_1.lagg0.c070.sjc002.ix.nflxvideo.net
    But netflix.com and movies.netflix.com point to completely different addresses from AWS. So how to I determine where the stream is actually coming from?

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  3. The stream comes from a cdn not aws

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  4. “There are two ways of interpreting this news. The first is that Netflix, worried about the threat of the FCC dismantling network neutrality and allowing ISPs to start charging content providers for delivering their traffic”

    Nonsense. Even if the FCC rules didn’t get shot down by the courts, those rules expressly allowed for paid peering.

    http://www.digitalsociety.org/2010/12/fccs-utter-incoherence-on-paid-prioritization/

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    1. That is not written well. I was talking about charging for access on the last mile, not at interconnection points. Yes, the FCC allows paid peering, but under NN balked at letting ISPs charge for prioritization at the last mile.

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      1. Paid peering is more effective than last-mile prioritization. That’s why nobody buys last-mile prioritization. Everything we are talking about here is all about paid peering. You’re insinuating that Comcast is worried that FCC Net Neutrality would disallows paid peering so they reached a settlement with Netflix. The facts don’t support your assertion.

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  5. My friend just checked from Verizon. Looks like there’s also a new peering agreement between Netflix and Verizon.

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    1. Verizon is denying any agreement as of now.

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  6. @Nick: I understand that. So earlier (before the current agreement) the stream was sourced from a CDN at Cogent? And now Comcast has agreed to install Openconnect?

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  7. From the traceroute, it looks like it takes only 2 hops to get from Comcast backbone to the CDN, so I would guess it is co-located

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  8. You guys are fast to catch the interconnection agreement. Verizon and Comcast just signed the deal with Netflix.

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  9. noctiferianpeon Saturday, February 22, 2014

    I can’t wait for outernet to make these unethical ISPs redundant. This decision is horrible for consumers and shows that neither company is worth supporting.

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  10. I freaking cant believe this , I pay Verizon and I pay Netflix what else do I have to do to get a good service, where are the feds and where is the FCC, now I have to use VPN to bounce behind the Verizon servers just to get decent quality, as per http://thevpn.guru/netflix-streaming-problems-verizon/ SmartDNS seems to be an option as well

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