How a Netflix subscriber used VPN to thwart Verizon's streaming slowdown

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It is an accepted network truism that the more hops you add to a signal path, the slower your traffic will be. This should apply to everything, including streaming Netflix over Verizon.

Customer.io CEO and co-founder Colin Nederkoorn certainly thought this was the case. However, when Nederkoorn compared the performance of Netflix streamed directly over Verizon Fios to that same stream over VPN—an experiment he documented on his personal blog to much social media fanfare—he got a shock. The directly-streamed Netflix was far slower than the VPN-connected download, defying that extra hop truism. It’s as if someone revoked Moore’s Law.

The nitty-gritty: Using widely-available free tools, Nederkoorn first measured the download speed of Netflix coming in directly through Verizon Fios, and then through VyprVPN over Verizon.

The directly-streamed Netflix came in to his home at 375 kbps; 0.5 percent of the 75 mbps download speed Nederkoorn pays Verizon for.

Through VyprVPN, the stream achieved Netflix’s maximum download rate of 3000 kbps. That’s “about 10x the speed I was getting connecting directly via Verizon,” Nederkoorn said on his blog. His measurement approach, which is easy to replicate, is detailed in his blog entry, “Verizon Made an Enemy Tonight.”

“I’ve been having all kinds of problems with Netflix buffering on my home system,” Nederkoorn told TechHive when we called him. “After reading about the fight between Netflix and Verizon about download speeds, I decided to run my own tests to find out what was really happening.”

To say the least, Nederkoorn was shocked by his results. “I was amazed and excited by solving my Netflix download issues by using a VPN, but also frustrated at the same time,” he said. “I mean, it shouldn’t work this way: The directly-connected Netflix should be just as fast.”

According to his blog, Nederkoorn’s success proves his theory. “My hypothesis here was that by connecting to a VPN, my traffic might end up getting routed through uncongested tubes,” he wrote. “Basically, if Verizon is not upgrading the tubes that go to Netflix, maybe I can connect to a different location (via VPN) first where Verizon will have good performance and there will be no congestion between location 2 and Netflix.”

Netflix declined to comment when we got a hold of them. We’ve also tried contacting Verizon and will update the story if the Internet service provider responds.

Golden Frog, the company that makes VyprVPN, did reach out to us, however. “Whether or not Verizon is technically ‘throttling,’ they are failing to provide the best Internet service possible to their end customers, particularly if the network carries Netflix traffic,” Philip Molter, Golden Frog’s chief technology officer, wrote in an email. “Netflix appears to be using Level3 to get to Verizon. If these Level3/Verizon links are saturated (reports are that they are), then performance through those links is going to suffer because the pipe is not big enough for all the bits that need to go through it.”

Netflix may be the most visible service affected, but any other service that passes through those links will be slowed as well, Molter added. “Golden Frog uses multiple backbone providers to get to Verizon customers, so we avoid those congested links,” he said. “Our paths to Verizon are not congested.”

Updated on July 24 with comment from VyprVPN maker Golden Frog and a response from Netflix.

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