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US broadband congestion due to backbone business deals, study says
Wed, 29th Oct 2014
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Broadband congestion early 2013 to early this year is said to be caused by the relationships between major broadband providers and internet backbone providers, according to a new study.

The study, published by the New America Foundation’s Measurement Lab Consortium (M-Lab), noted major performance degradation from five major U.S. broadband providers, including Comcast, AT&T and Verizon Communications.

M-Lab used network diagnostic tools installed on internet backbone providers’ networks to gather information and said for some customers of these companies, download speeds were less than 0.5 Mbps for months at a time.

The study found frequent traffic congestion problems with specific broadband providers.

“From this we conclude that ISP interconnection has a substantial impact on consumer internet performance - sometimes a severely negative impact - and that business relationships between [broadband and backbone providers], and not major technical problems, are at the root of the problems we observed,” says the study.

Broadband providers hit back. David Young, vice president of public policy at Verizon, says while the study points to backbone business relationships as the cause of traffic degradation, it isn’t able to pinpoint which business relationships were the problem.

Furthermore, broadband providers said Netflix business deals are the cause of traffic degradation.

“This is a problem that’s been discussed pretty extensively and documented pretty extensively,” says Young.

AT&T says commercially negotiated traffic peering agreements on the internet need to be balanced.

“When one side of a commercial peering arrangement sends significantly more traffic than it receives, the allocation of infrastructure costs described above gets skewed,” says Bob Quinn, AT&T’s senior vice president for federal regulatory policy. “If the sending party refuses to take steps to bring balance back into the arrangement, congestion can result.”

The M-Lab study is "the first work of its kind, using open data and reproducible methods to expose complex performance issues at scale," says Vint Cerf, a Google vice president and internet pioneer.

"This research highlights the critical role of open data and transparent research in maintaining an accessible and open Internet: Without knowing the scope or extent of the problems, we cannot act to remedy them," he says.