Monday, May 5, 2014

Language Used in Discussion about Net Neutrality and Peering


< Please see my disclaimers at the bottom of this article. >

A great deal of the discussions about net neutrality and the Netflix peering deals have me concerned because of the language people have chosen to use when discussing these topics. I fear that the real truth about what is really happening with regards to the cause of bandwidth usage is becoming lost. I just want to set the record straight about some of the language used and where certain blame should be placed.
My problem with this issue is that several times I have read or heard statements similar to the following:

“Netflix is using 30% of all of the bandwidth in the U.S. …”

In most of the conversations I’ve read the blame for all of this bandwidth usage is placed on Netflix alone. Yes, it is true that according to many different reports and even some official statistic websites that Netflix services account for a large percentage of all U.S. internet traffic. But is Netflix really the cause of this internet traffic? Is Netflix itself hogging all of this bandwidth? Consider the diagram below.

TCP - Syn Syn-Ack Ack handshake

This is a diagram of the TCP-handshake and is a very basic way to display how communication is established between devices in a computer network, especially between devices on the internet. In a nut-shell, the 3-way handshake works like this:
  • The home laptop sends a TCP SYNchronize packet to the online server,
  • Server receives the laptop SYN packet and sends a SYN-ACK response back,
  • The home laptop receives the server's SYN-ACK and sends an ACKnowledge packet,
  • The server receives ACK.
Like I said, the diagram is a very simple display on how basic communication is established in a TCP\IP network such as the internet.

So here is my question to you: Who initiates the communication request? Who is the one that starts ‘talking’ to the other side? The Home Laptop, that’s correct!

Now lets change this diagram a bit so I can make my point…

TCP - Syn Syn-Ack Ack handshake2

So with this diagram, who is the one that initiates the communication with Netflix? The CUSTOMER. My point in displaying all of this information is this:

Netflix isn’t eating up all of the internet bandwidth, its customers are.

You heard me correct. All of Netflix’s customers, including myself, is why Netflix services account for a large percentage of internet traffic in the United States – not Netflix. Netflix never starts the communication between itself and it’s customers, the customers do. Each of Netflix customers must manually start the communication stream on their own device, not the other way around.

So the next time you hear someone blame Netflix for eating up bandwidth just remember that Netflix isn’t the cause. It is Netflix customers that are hogging all of the ISP bandwidth.

- Joe

  1. It is not the goal of this article to discuss the justification for throttling Netflix communication (positive\negative) or the morality of either side of this case (ISPs, CDNs, or content providers such as Amazon or Netflix).
  2. Yes, I am a Netflix customer and have been since before streaming was a large part of their business.
  3. Yes, I am an employee of a large media company. No I will not discuss my job or where I work. These are views are my own.