Comcast and Netflix Deal Means Better Streaming


Have you heard that Comcast and Netflix have signed a deal that looks to help ensure that Netflix customers on the Comcast backbone (network) receive the best possible streaming service? What are the particulars of this deal, and why was it struck? More importantly, what is this deal going to mean to you?

The Deal Between Netflix and Comcast

I’m going to talk about the “why” behind this deal first. According to the Netflix Internet Service Providers (ISP) rating tool, average streaming speed had dropped off by about 27% as of October of 2013. Apparently, this dropoff had nothing to do with the recent court ruling negating the FCC ruling known as “net neutrality,” which said that all ISPs must treat all Internet traffic equally. This meant that companies weren’t able to penalize customers for streaming from a service they don’t own (Verizon owns Redbox, for instance).

At first glance, a cynical person might see that slowdown as being related to the Appellate Court decision, but they’d be wrong. The metric showing the decrease was about three months before the ruling, so they do appear to be completely unrelated. Also, Netflix normally doesn’t connect directly to the ISPs; they use third-party services, such as Cogent and Level3 Communications to connect users to their Open Connect servers.

Some of the smaller Internet providers around the country have agreed to co-locate Open Connect servers in their own datacenters in order to ensure their customers that stream from Netflix have the best possible streaming experience. This is something that Comcast refused to do, especially since most of the smaller ISPs have done so, usually (gasp!) at no cost to Netflix.

Netflix was able to trace the root cause of these bandwidth losses to the fact that the connection between them and Comcast through third-party vendor Cogent Communications was overused. The limits of the current connection had been reached. Normally, both parties (ISP and stream provider) will share the expense of upgrading the connection, but Comcast chose not to.

Now, I have to state that Netflix isn’t the only company that uses a company like Cogent — not by far. However, at peak usage, Netflix streaming sometimes accounts for 30 percent of all traffic on the Comcast network. So, in short, the “why” behind the deal was to ensure customers of both companies don’t start leaving due to poor service quality.

The Comcast and Netflix Deal: The What

Netflix normally tries to get service providers to put one of their special Open Connect servers in the provider’s data center in order to better manage streaming traffic. Comcast wouldn’t go for this. However, what they did agree to was to allow Netflix to locate their servers in third-party data centers and then connect those directly to their data centers. However, they plan on charging Netflix for this. No details of how much this is going to cost Netflix have been released. This agreement does not mean that Netflix is receiving any preferential treatment over competitors such as Hulu, Redbox, and others. It just means there is a more stable and direct connection between end users and the Netflix servers.

So What Does this Deal between Netflix and Comcast Mean to You?

If you’re a Comcast customer, this deal between Comcast and Netflix means that you should be able to enjoy your Netflix streaming experience whenever you want. In effect, your streaming experience should become everything it should be: fast, enjoyable, and worry-free.

However, since none of the monetary part of the agreement that was reached was announced, there isn’t enough information to determine how much the deal will affect you financially. No announcement was made as to whether Netflix will be charged for its traffic on a usage basis (per Gigabit, for example) or whether they will be charged on a monthly or annual basis. My guess is that you will see your Netflix bill go up soon, but I don’t think it will go up much, maybe just a couple bucks.

If you’re a Netflix and Comcast customer, I’d love to hear from you about how your streaming experience has changed in the past few months. Leave me a comment below.

Photo Credit: Instituto Inovação