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Is Your Netflix Slow? This May Be Why

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NETFLIX
In this Jan. 17 photo, a person displays Netflix on a tablet in North Andover, Mass. A Netflix ranking of Internet Service Providers shows Netflix streaming is getting slower for Comcast and Verizon FIOS customers. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Verizon and Comcast customers aren't hallucinating -- Netflix really has gotten slower for them.

The streaming video service on Monday released its monthly ranking of Internet service providers from fastest to slowest in terms of average performance of Netflix streams. Comcast again ranked among the slowest on the list, while Verizon FIOS dropped one spot, to seventh of 17, according to a Netflix analysis of data culled from its millions of subscribers.

The news hardly comes as a surprise to many customers of Comcast and Verizon, who've gone to message boards and blogs to voice their complaints about Netflix speed in recent months. Some question whether slower Netflix performance is related to last month's federal court ruling that struck down the government's ban on Internet traffic throttling.

One person, a satisfied Verizon customer for a few years, wrote in January that Netflix had become "pretty much unusable" over the previous month. "During a movie or show, it will stop for buffering every minute or two and hang for about 30 seconds, then resume, then repeat."

A frustrated Comcast customer in Spokane, Wash., wrote on a thread in November about issues with Netflix "over the last couple of weeks."

"Daytime is fine but the evenings suck bad," the person wrote, adding that Comcast has "replaced 2 modems and changed all my connections."

"This has not been a problem for the last 5 years in this house, just the last 2 weeks."

As Ars Technica's Jon Brodkin noted, Netflix speeds on both Verizon FiOS and Comcast, which have 6.1 million and 20.7 million respective subscribers, have been slowing for the past few months.

Netflix speed on Verizon's network has become a controversial topic after a blog post last week accused Verizon of "throttling," or slowing down, content hosted by Amazon's cloud computing service, including Netflix.

The charge gained significance because it comes after last month's federal appeals court ruling that struck down Federal Communication Commission rules known as net neutrality. Now, theoretically, an ISP like Verizon or Comcast could charge a company like YouTube, Netflix or Facebook to deliver content faster to subscribers.

Verizon denied the report and said in a statement to HuffPost that it "treat[s] all traffic equally, and that has not changed."

Netflix, for its part, reportedly said Verizon is not slowing its traffic, and the streaming video company isn't concerned with the possibility that ISPs may throttle its service, according to an article on Re/Code.

Still, when it comes to streaming Netflix, the average performance of Comcast and Verizon's FiOS networks has been declining. Verizon and Comcast didn't return requests for comment about Netflix quality on their networks. Netflix referred The Huffington Post to its "ISP Speed Index" blog post.

Dan Rayburn, a principal analyst at Frost & Sullivan, said the Comcast and Verizon performance issues have "nothing to do with net neutrality at all," but rather are related to ISP capacity.

Rayburn explained that ISPs have only so much capacity, and if a network doesn't have enough, the quality of what's being delivered -- in this case, Netflix -- will suffer. But investing in network infrastructure is expensive, so ISPs have to decide how much they're willing to spend to deliver a certain experience to their customers.

To be sure, Netflix hogs bandwidth. During peak watching times, Netflix accounts for around a third of all downstream Internet traffic in the U.S., according to Sandvine, a company that monitors networks.

As Brodkin noted, neither Comcast nor Verizon have signed on to Netflix's Open Connect, a controversial program that gives ISPs access to Netflix-dedicated servers. Open Connect helps ISPs deal with congestion, but also saves Netflix from paying fees, according to The Wall Street Journal.

It's not that the companies aren't improving their networks, Rayburn said. Rather, it's a tradeoff. "How much do you spend to make it improve by what percent? At what point do you draw the line and say the quality of the video is good enough?

"It's a very fine line that they balance between not wanting to go out and spend a lot of money to upgrade their network but then also provide a good quality experience," Rayburn added.

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