Netflix takes need for speed global with worldwide ISP rankings

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Netflix is known for taking Internet service providers to task over slow Netflix streaming speeds by publishing average bitrates from individual ISPs on its blogs. Now, the movie and TV show streaming service has upped the ante for its name-and-shame tactics with a new website that ranks streaming speeds from ISPs in the U.S., Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, and Sweden.

The Netflix ISP Speed Index will be updated monthly and includes a complete archive of speed rankings, as well as how each ISP’s service has improved or worsened month over month. Netflix’s speed index is based on the streaming experience of its 33 million members who, the company says, watch more than 1 billion hours of video every month.

Fiber rides again

Google Fiber, the search giant’s 1Gbps network experiment in Kansas City, Mo., currently ranks as the fastest ISP for Netflix streaming in the United States and worldwide in countries where Netflix is available. The best country to be a Netflix streaming customer overall, however, is Finland where the nationwide average bitrate is the highest; Mexico brings up the rear as the slowest. The new rankings don’t cover all countries where Netflix is available, most notably Canada.

Netflix’s February 2013 rankings for ISP speeds in the U.S.

Netflix and ISPs: It’s complicated

Netflix has tangled with ISPs ever since 2007, when the company added video streaming to its DVD-by-mail subscription service. Along with Hulu, Netflix was one of the earliest examples of our current video-saturated Internet, where you can find premium movies, TV shows, and live sporting events available for streaming.

By 2011, NPD Group reported that Netflix was responsible for 61 percent of all streamed and downloaded movies in the U.S. Around the same time, Sandvine Research said Netflix was responsible for 30 percent of all downstream U.S. Internet traffic during peak times. In its latest report for the second half of 2012, Sandvine says Netflix now takes up 33 percent of downstream traffic.

Netflix’s popularity and the high demand for its streaming service has been a bone of contention with American ISPs—not so much over delivery speeds, which Netflix’s new site focuses on, but for the ISPs’ monthly bandwidth caps for individual customers. If you use more Internet bandwidth in a given month, you are charged overage fees, which in 2011 were popularly called a “Netflix tax” since the bulk of many users’ monthly bandwidth was taken up by video streaming.

The bandwidth debate is still going on between Netflix and the ISPs. Last April, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said Comcast was giving preferential treatment to its own streaming service’s over competing video providers such as Netflix. “When I watch video on my Xbox from [Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Go], it counts against my Comcast internet cap,” Hastings said on his Facebook page. “When I watch through Comcast’s Xfinity app, however, it does not count against my Comcast internet cap.”

More recently, Time Warner Cable accused Netflix of seeking preferential treatment for its new Open Content Network that delivers Super HD and 3D streaming content.

Netflix first ranked and published U.S. ISP streaming speeds in January 2011 on the company’s now defunct tech blog. Netflix began publishing rankings on its primary blog starting with data for November 2012 before moving over to the new Speed Index Website with the February 2013 rankings.

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