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Internet traffic congestion real, but sporadic, study says

Grant Gross | June 19, 2014
Complaints by Netflix and Internet backbone providers about network traffic congestion point to a real problem, with congestion on some networks lasting 18 hours a day, but the problems are sporadic and often temporary, according to preliminary results from a traffic study.

While both sides in the debate have an interest in maximizing their profits, the FCC has a role to play in protecting consumers, said Gene Kimmelman, president and CEO of digital rights group Public Knowledge.

The traffic management "can be constantly changed -- or manipulated, if you want to call it that -- for good business reasons or for maybe a more nefarious exercise of market power, so it calls out for policy oversight," Kimmelman said.

Jeff Eisenach, a visiting scholar at free-market think tank the American Enterprise Institute, suggested a limited need for regulation. If companies on either side of the debate are manipulating traffic unfairly, antitrust agencies have the power to investigate, he said.

MIT and UCSD are looking for ways to collect more data, but in the meantime, streaming video providers and ISPs should look for ways to fix problems of congestion, Clark recommended. Clark said he doubts that ISPs like Comcast want their customers to have a bad experience watching Netflix.

ISPs have huge market power compared to Web content producers, Kimmelman countered. Cable broadband providers may not "want their customers to be unhappy, it just happens to be the case that most of them are," he said. "How can that be the case?"

 

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