Thoughts on Internet congestion and the FCC's broadband report

By: David Young

The FCC recently released its fourth annual Fixed Broadband Report, as well as some underlying data. The Report confirms that Verizon FiOS delivers a world class experience to customers, with unparalleled speed and reliability. In fact, the Report found that our FiOS platform consistently delivers well over 100% of the upload and download speeds advertised.

The FCC news release alludes to anomalous congestion some customers experienced during the testing, and the FCC properly excluded that data from its test results. Importantly, a recent study by Prof. David Clark from MIT and the team from The Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA) shows that congestion on Internet interconnections is not widespread, and when it occurs is usually for a brief period of time. That study also explains that even when there are issues, they can often be caused by WiFi, a customer’s home network, or by overloaded content servers, not ISPs.

But when congestion does occur on specific interconnection links, it’s the content sender and transit provider, not the ISP, that determines the specific links and routes that content (such as Netflix videos) takes. In fact, in making decisions on how to send video traffic to consumers, content senders may have 50 or more routes to choose from to get to a given ISP’s network. When appropriately structured, these routes provide plenty of capacity for all the traffic to reach consumers. But when content senders or Internet transit providers choose to concentrate most of the traffic  onto a small number of interconnections (for business reasons), consumers can experience some congestion.

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The congestion mentioned in the release was the result of some Internet transit providers like Cogent trying to send large volumes of traffic to ISPs through connections that are too small and were not designed to deal with huge amounts of traffic. For years, providers that interconnect with each other do so based on the amount of traffic going both ways. When the amounts are roughly the same on each end, parties exchange them for free.  When they are not, parties negotiate a commercial deal to address the additional capacity needs.

Some providers - Cogent in particular - are resisting paying for the additional capacity needed to support the volume of traffic that they are sending, in order to decrease their costs of doing business. That is bad for their customers - large players like Netflix that use them to reach our network - and bad for our customers who try to download that content. But Cogent, like other providers, has a number of alternatives available to deliver its traffic, including negotiating reasonable commercial arrangements. Consumers will be the beneficiaries of these arrangements, and we continue to be ready and willing to be part of that solution.

About the author(s): 

David Young has an engineering background, which enables him to develop positions on emerging public policy issues and asses key technology and communications industry trends. Prior to 2000, he spent six years working in Verizon’s Research and Development (R&D) group on many advanced technologies including VoIP, data network architectures, and audio, video and image compression. He has been awarded ten U.S. government patents for his R&D work. David is a member of the IEEE and IEEE Communications Society.