David Young, Vice President, Verizon Regulatory Affairs recently published a blog post suggesting that Netflix themselves are responsible for the streaming slowdowns Netflix’s customers have been seeing. But his attempt at deception has backfired. He has clearly admitted that Verizon is deliberately constraining capacity from network providers like Level 3 who were chosen by Netflix to deliver video content requested by Verizon’s own paying broadband consumers.
His explanation for Netflix’s on-screen congestion messages contains a nice little diagram. The diagram shows a lovely uncongested Verizon network, conveniently color-coded in green. It shows a network that has lots of unused capacity at the most busy time of the day. Think about that for a moment: Lots of unused capacity. So point number one is that Verizon has freely admitted that is has the ability to deliver lots of Netflix streams to broadband customers requesting them, at no extra cost. But, for some reason, Verizon has decided that it prefers not to deliver these streams, even though its subscribers have paid it to do so.
The diagram then shows this one little bar, suggestively color-coded in red so you know it’s bad. And that is meant to be Level 3 and several other network operators. That bar actually represents a very large global network, and it should be shown in green, since, as we will discuss in a moment, our network has plenty of available capacity as well. In a previous blog post, I gave details about how much fiber and how much equipment we deployed to build that network and how many cities around the globe it connects. If the Verizon diagram was to scale, our little red bar is probably bigger than their green network.
But here’s the thing. The utilization of all of those thousands of links across the Level 3 network is much the same as Verizon’s depiction of their own network. We engineer it that way. We have to maintain adequate headroom because that’s what we sell to customers. They buy high quality uncongested bandwidth. And in fact, Verizon admits as much because they conveniently show one direction across our network with a peak utilization of 34%; almost exactly what I explained in my last blog post. I can confirm once again that all of those thousands of links on the Level 3 network are managed carefully so that the peak utilizations look very similar to those Verizon show for their own network – IN BOTH DIRECTIONS.
So why does Verizon show this red bar? And why do they blame Level 3 and the other network operators contracted by Netflix?
Well, as I explained in my previous blog post, the bit that is congested is the place where the Level 3 and Verizon networks interconnect. Level 3’s network interconnects with Verizon’s in ten cities; three in Europe and seven in the United States. The aggregate utilization of those interconnections in Europe on July 8, 2014 was 18% (a region where Verizon does NOT sell broadband to its customers). The utilization of those interconnections in the United States (where Verizon sells broadband to its customers and sees Level 3 and online video providers such as Netflix as competitors to its own CDN and pay TV businesses) was about 100%. And to be more specific, as Mr. Young pointed out, that was 100% utilization in the direction of flow from the Level 3 network to the Verizon network.
Let’s look at what that means in one of those locations. The one Verizon picked in its diagram: Los Angeles. All of the Verizon FiOS customers in Southern California likely get some of their content through this interconnection location. It is in a single building. And boils down to a router Level 3 owns, a router Verizon owns and four 10Gbps Ethernet ports on each router. A small cable runs between each of those ports to connect them together. This diagram is far simpler than the Verizon diagram and shows exactly where the congestion exists.
Verizon has confirmed that everything between that router in their network and their subscribers is uncongested – in fact, has plenty of capacity sitting there waiting to be used. Above, I confirmed exactly the same thing for the Level 3 network. So in fact, we could fix this congestion in about five minutes simply by connecting up more 10Gbps ports on those routers. Simple. Something we’ve been asking Verizon to do for many, many months, and something other providers regularly do in similar circumstances. But Verizon has refused. So Verizon, not Level 3 or Netflix, causes the congestion. Why is that? Maybe they can’t afford a new port card because they’ve run out – even though these cards are very cheap, just a few thousand dollars for each 10 Gbps card which could support 5,000 streams or more. If that’s the case, we’ll buy one for them. Maybe they can’t afford the small piece of cable between our two ports. If that’s the case, we’ll provide it. Heck, we’ll even install it.
But, here’s the other interesting thing also shown in the Verizon diagram. This congestion only takes place between Verizon and network providers chosen by Netflix. The providers that Netflix does not use do not experience the same problem. Why is that? Could it be that Verizon does not want its customers to actually use the higher-speed services it sells to them? Could it be that Verizon wants to extract a pound of flesh from its competitors, using the monopoly it has over the only connection to its end-users to raise its competitors’ costs?
To summarize: All of the networks have ample capacity and congestion only occurs in a small number of locations, locations where networks interconnect with some last mile ISPs like Verizon. The cost of removing that congestion is absolutely trivial. It takes two parties to remove congestion at an interconnect point. I can confirm that Level 3 is not the party refusing to add that capacity. In fact, Level 3 has asked Verizon for a long time to add interconnection capacity and to deliver the traffic its customers are requesting from our customers, but Verizon refuses.
Why might that be? Maybe we should ask David Young.