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Notebook: An in-depth look at Netflix's international streaming speeds

By Emily Bodden, Daily Arts Writer
Published March 28, 2013

The Internet has been buzzing with the news of Netflix’s release of streaming analytics for Internet providers in eight countries. While the company has tracked the average streaming speeds in the United States for a while, this comparative information was first published publicly on March 11. Now, customers can view which service providers are most capable of pumping undisrupted Netflix to their screens, free of stuttering or buffering.

The United States ranks as the fastest of the eight countries Netflix compared, yet, after taking a look at the actual numbers, the information appears skewed by the presence of Google Fiber.

Google Fiber averaged a Netflix streaming speed of 3.35 Mbps (megabytes per second), which is 0.98 Mbps faster than the next fastest provider. The slowest U.S. provider (Clearwire) only averaged a speed of 1.25 Mbps, which is 2.1 Mbps slower than Google Fiber.

Though other providers fail to match Google Fiber’s speed, the service is only available to a small fraction of U.S. citizens. Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri are the only cities with access to Google Fiber at the moment, with Olathe, Kansas on the way. This streaming speed, substantially higher than the other providers, is what rocketed the United States to the top of the company’s list.

Looking even further at Netflix’s new indexing site, each nation’s average streaming speed sits in a faint gray font to the right of the screen. Finland has the highest rate of 2.57 Mbps and a lowest average speed of 2.28 Mbps, which is still quicker than two nations’ fastest speeds.

What does the site mean for the marketing of Internet providers? Now with the data to support or expose providers’ claims, it’s sure to push companies to work harder at providing faster rates. Without a market shrouded by ignorance, concerned customers can view a month-by-month comparison of their available providers in both a list and a graphic representation.

This data also proves that, for a highly developed nation, the United States could strive for faster digital information delivery. Amid a crumbling physical infrastructure, increasing the demand for faster and more efficient download speeds would be a surefire way to connect citizens over an expansive nation.

Netflix’s ISP Speed Index also poses the possibility to challenge public perception. Public access to this information grants users the upper hand. Any uncertainty about which provider is truly the fastest when it comes to streaming can now be eliminated; the answers are only a hyperlink away.

But there are flaws within this system. As mentioned before, the way in which nations are presented is deceptive. The United States is ranked No. 1 for individual providers (due to Google Fiber), but in reality, based on overall average speed, the country comes in third.

Not every provider spans the entire nation. The lack of more specific geographic information for each statistic can skew the results and paint unfair portraits for certain companies. When looking at the rankings for Internet providers in the United States, Google Fiber would be the most desirable. But if one doesn’t live in the aforementioned specific cities, one must be satisfied with whichever providers are available to them.

When the public becomes privy to once undisclosed data, these statistics can both enlighten and dishearten. While consumers may feel empowered and informed, the data can be ambiguous and misleading. It also places immense pressure for improvement on the providers who are listed. Whether the result of free-market capitalism or coercion, once news breaks that Internet providers could be doing better, these companies best hope they can respond accordingly. It’ll be interesting to see whether Netflix’s ISP Speed Index plays a role in people’s choice of Internet, and whether such transparency results in overall market improvement.


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