Is Comcast really throttling Netflix?
Short answer: Given the presented evidence so far, we don’t really know. It’s complicated. About the only ones who could really tell us is Comcast, and of course there is little incentive for them to tell you if they are. What we do know is that they’ve got some kind of problem somewhere as people are able to get better performance by using proxy servers. Either Comcast is throttling, not got sufficient bandwidth somewhere, or they’re deliberately not routing traffic efficiently. Or all three.
Long answer: There has been interesting bits and pieces thrown around recently about whether Comcast is or isn’t throttling Netflix and/or access to Amazon AWS in the wake of the FCC losing its method of enforcing Network Neutrality. Some people have been able to show that using a proxy server results in faster and better Netflix performance. It’s worth pointing out that based on Netflix’s visibility into ISPs, connectivity between Comcast and Netflix has been getting worse pretty steadily for the last year and a half.
I’m going to try and provide a bit of an overview, hopefully without going into too much unnecessary detail, to try to explain why it is actually really quite complicated, and what kinds of evidence we would need to have to be able to confirm whether or not throttling is happening. This is coming in part from my background of working in an ISP both in the Network Operations Centre, and later as a sysadmin (as well as general experiences as a consumer and a sysadmin). Both roles involved a fair bit of work with the networks team and proved to be a fascinating learning experience.
The easiest way to think about internet connectivity is in terms of a tree. Your ISP will have a lot of bandwidth available at the core represented by the thick trunk, with fairly thick branches feeding off into slightly smaller branches, and even smaller branches off that and so on.
Your home connection is on what is referred to as the “last mile”, the final stretch between your home and the nearest distribution point (and would be the smallest twig). Your home connection is the part of the connection that is most likely to restrict you, as distance and line quality vary and that has a huge impact on maximum theoretical bandwidth. Depending on the scale of the network and how the ISP has chosen to run their service, you might have a few more distribution points before you get to the ISPs central bandwidth (the central trunk of a tree). At each stage your ISP will be aggregating network traffic together into single links, and at each stage they might not have sufficient bandwidth to cope with all the customers using all their possible bandwidth at the same time. Achieving that would generally be prohibitively expensive. Instead ISPs try to ensure they have just enough (plus suitable headroom) to cope with typical usage, and to provide for enough growth. People’s internet usage is actually reasonably predictable and usually grows at a fairly predictable rate (much like electricity usage.) For example an ISP might sell a 100Mbps service, with 20 houses connected to a 1000Mbps connection. For the most part people aren’t going to actually use 100Mbps, even during peak, so that 1000Mbps connection should be fine, and they’ll be able to predict with reasonable confidence when it’s no longer going to be sufficient. If all the customers did start downloading large content simultaneously, things would get more than a little congested and they’d see packet loss and slow downloads.
This next stage is a little ISP dependent, and I don’t know for sure how Comcast’s has their network arranged, but we can make some fairly safe assumptions. It’s safe to assume that they’ll have regional distribution points in their networks, which will have connectivity off to the internet’s backbone with various transit providers and peering providers as appropriate. There will also likely be connections off to various regional internet exchange points (e.g. Seattle’s SIX: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle_Internet_Exchange). These typically offer cheap and low latency connections to locally hosted resources.
ISPs will have multiple networking providers that provide their connectivity to the internet backbone, this will be likely made up of a mix of transit (go-between connectivity companies) and peering providers (core internet bandwidth). The use of multiple providers allows for resiliency in a network. Almost everything you can access on the internet will be accessible via a number of these providers. It also allows the ISP to manage costs. Internet connectivity can get to be quite expensive at an ISP level. Precise pricing on the contracts with these providers are generally kept secret. What I do know from my past experiences is that the price changes somewhat depending on how much data is provided and consumed, and just as importantly, what the ratio is between those.
Transit providers want to be marketable to companies that might want their services. If you’re uploading content through them, it’s reasonable for them to assume you’re providing value to their other customers, and thus they’ll want to keep you using them. The more the ratio is skewed towards consumption instead of provision, the more expensive the bandwidth becomes. As you can probably imagine, this results in ISPs trying to do a delicate balancing act, trying to ensure they get the most favourable ratios with all of their connectivity providers. They’ll do this by manipulating route costs in routing tables, effectively changing which provider is favoured by network packets by making one provider seem cheaper (in networking terms) than another. I know of a few ISPs in the UK that continued to run their own usenet/newsgroup servers long after they ceased providing direct value to customers, because it was a good source of upload traffic that could be shifted around to other transit connections without affecting customers (particularly if they kept certain popular binaries groups on it).
This kind of juggling routing around between providers happens all the time with ISPs. With the way network routing and TCP works, you shouldn’t even notice it. ISPs are looking to get a perfect balance of cost, speed and latency. Tier 1 networks (peering companies that provide the core internet connectivity) are likely to be closest to the ultimate destination, but they’re also expensive. Tier 2 networks (transit providers) are likely a few extra hops away, so likely incur extra latency, but are cheaper. Of course your idea of a perfect balance and theirs might be different from theirs. They might be asking “What’s the worst I can get away with?”
Before we can get back to the core question about Comcast, it’s worth taking a moment to look at Netflix. How does Netflix provide content to its customers? Netflix is famous as a user of Amazon Web Services, almost their entire infrastructure is based on Amazon’s cloud services. However they also use what are called CDNs, Content Delivery Networks. They don’t just use one company either, they have multiple providers. When Netflix has transcoded video content for delivery, they upload the videos to CDNs for actual delivery to customers (at one point Netflix had an exclusive deal with Level 3, I’m not sure if that still applies). These CDN companies operate in data-centers right around the world providing tiers of cached content, automatically trying to have content served up as close to customers home network connections as possible.
So where does that bring us with Comcast and Netflix? People are able to show that if they use a proxy their connection to Netflix improves. That tells us one thing at least, that the initial hops in their connectivity to the nearest regional distribution point isn’t congested. The cable company who provided my internet access when I was living in London routinely oversold the local exchange, resulting in terrible service for us until we complained, whilst other friends were fine, even as much as a few streets away. So in this case with Comcast and Netflix we know that connectivity to the end user isn’t congested as clearly they can receive data at a high speed. So we know the congestion is probably coming from the core. We’re reaching the area where we just don’t have enough information to truly answer the question. If people are able to set up a proxy that sends packets through exactly the same exit point from Comcast’s network as those packets going to the relevant CDN for the content we’re comparing, and we see that they still get better throughput, well the we’re a lot closer to being confident that Netflix is being throttled by Comcast. Unfortunately we don’t. So we can’t say for sure if Comcast is explicitly throttling Netflix traffic or not. We just know that either they are, or something somewhere is wrong in their infrastructure, like a congested transit link, and that Comcast isn’t doing anything to improve things. As you can see from the graph I posted earlier, it’s clear things have been degrading for months.
So why the talk about network neutrality? Part of the problem is, Comcast is also a content provider, and that business revenue is extremely lucrative. With the internet increasingly being the main source for content, via Netflix, iTunes etc. their media business has the potential to suffer. They make terrific amounts of money from advertising alongside their programs. If you’re steaming content from other sources, that lucrative revenue vanishes. Comcast actually has lots of incentive against providing you with good quality service, and only a token excuse for competition to give them any real incentive to upgrade your connection speeds and network. If Network Neutrality is not enforced, Comcast could deliberately choose to cripple access to any competitor they liked, be it ISP, rival content provider or otherwise. With most of the country stuck under what is effectively a government blessed monopoly, it’s not like people could take their business elsewhere.
We shall see what we shall see, I guess.
Hopefully I’ve managed to explain how there are multiple points that congestion could be occurring, and explained why the evidence we’ve seen so far isn’t really a smoking gun about whether or not Comcast is throttling Netflix traffic. If anything is unclear, and / or I’ve done a bad job, feel free to leave a comment.
I have been enjoying a 32-inch Dell 4K monitor for a few weeks now; testing it for an upcoming review. First things first, yes 4K is awesome -- no, it is godly. However, there is not much 4K content out there. All movies in that format which I watched, were on YouTube. Watching frolicking puppies in glorious 4K is fun, but it will not likely spur sales.
While 4K is great on a large 32-inch monitor, do consumers or professionals really need or want it on a small 15-inch laptop screen? Toshiba seems to think so. But do you? Read on and tell me.
"Today Toshiba has made 4K display technology more accessible to mobile professionals and enthusiasts by announcing two exciting new Windows 8.1 laptops that feature integrated 15.6-inch 4K Ultra-HD displays. Coming in mid-2014, these new Toshiba 4K laptops will take laptop screen resolution to the next level", says Gavin Gear of Microsoft.
Toshiba will offer two variants -- one aimed at business (Tecra W50) and the other at consumers (Satellite P55t). While both laptops feature the same display size and 4K resolution, the P55T adds a touchscreen.
Although prices have not yet been announced, one thing is for sure, they will be expensive. Therein lies the problem -- is the cost of the 4K display justified with actual need or is it simply bragging rights? They will both be available "mid-2014". Will you be buying? Tell me in the comments.
Anyone working with metal should be aware of these two tools. They make finishing metal a smoother experience. I prefer these two attachments over composite disks, belt sanders, or orbital sanders.
I learned about them as a construction worker while prepping process pipe for welds on oil refineries. Both tools are standards in the steam fitting trade. I’ve since used them on robot creations, blacksmith projects, and anywhere else metal is involved.
Flap disks are more forgiving than standard composite grinding disks. (Use grinding disks and stones to grind, but use the flap attachments to finish.) Flap disks allow the user to treat a work piece like a sculptor. There’s a sense of touch and shaping involved. Less likely to gouge while still smoothing at a fast rate.
The flapper wheel has similar qualities but gets inside tight spots and is excellent on irregular surfaces. Attach it to an end grinder, drill, or set one up on a bench grinder.
Here are before-and-after photos of a railroad spike knife that was ground with a flap-disk. (Actually it is the un-ground side of the knife vs. the ground side). Doing this took less than 2 minutes.
-- Aaron Nipper
Flap Wheels and Flap Disks
Available from Amazon
From experts to novices, most PC users benefit from launching a command line session occasionally. This is one area of Windows which hasn’t changed significantly in years, of course, but if you’re tired of its various annoyances there are steps you can take to improve the situation. And clink could be a great place to start.
This open source program installs quickly and easily. The only setup option to consider is whether you want the program to launch when you run a command line session; we’d recommend you allow this, as it keeps the process very straightforward. Open a command window immediately afterwards and you should see new copyright messages for clink its other components (see the grab), a useful indicator that everything is working.
clink doesn’t otherwise change the Cmd.exe interface, so everything will look the same as it always did -- but there are some useful changes. Want to paste in some text from the clipboard, for instance? You don’t have to use the right-click context any more; clink allows you to use Ctrl+V, just the same as you can everywhere else.
There’s an extended command history, too. If you entered some very long commands earlier, for instance, simply pressing the up arrow will step back through your previous commands to recall it. And unlike regular Cmd.exe, this works even across multiple command line sessions.
If you need to enter some long directory name, but can’t remember exactly what it is, then type as much as you know ("cd \prog"), press Tab and click displays all possible matches (much more useful than the standard Windows approach of simply cycling through every option).
Interestingly, this works with programs, too. If you’re at the command line, for instance, and you type "net", then press Tab, you’ll see a list of the various executables you can run (netstat.exe, netplwiz.exe, netsh.exe etc). Again, this might be useful if you can’t quite remember the full name of a tool, and seeing every possibility listed makes it easier to pick out the one you need.
There’s also support for undoing and redoing whatever you’ve been typing on the current line.
If you’re familiar with Linux, then you’ll probably appreciate the Bash-like line editing from Gnu’s Readline library.
And if you really know what you’re doing then you can even write custom auto-completion scripts for clink with Lua scripts. The clink.lua file in the program’s installation folder will give you some clues.
What you won’t get here is much in the way of useful documentation, unfortunately. clink is primarily written for an audience of experts and it’s assumed that you’ll understand most of the key details already.
You don’t have to use -- or even understand -- the more complex features to get something out of the program, though. Just being able to paste text more naturally, and recall command history across multiple sessions could be enough to justify installing clink, and if you’d like to improve your command line experience then we’d recommend you give the program a try.
TrueCrypt is an excellent encryption tool, a very good choice for anyone who wants to protect their most confidential files. If you use its ability to save your documents in hidden containers, though, it’s worth keeping in mind that these aren’t quite as secret as you might think: TCHunt, a free Windows tool, can identify (though not decrypt) them in just a few seconds.
The program comes in the form of a compact (244KB) executable, with no extras and no installation required; you can just download and run it.
You will need to launch the program from the command line unfortunately, but there’s no great complexity to it. The simplest way to start is to point TCHunt at the drive you need, like this.
tchunt -d c:\
The program then scans your hard drive, reporting any issues it encounters (files it couldn’t access, say), and highlighting likely TrueCrypt volumes as "suspect_files".
Once you understand what TCHunt is doing, using this command will simplify the process.
tchunt -d c:\ 2>nul
The extra details will be removed and you’ll see only the list of suspect files (if there are any).
And as usual with command line tools, running tchunt on its own displays more information about the command line switches available.
Please note, the developer says that TCHunt can produce false positives. In our tests this didn’t happen once, but it can’t be ruled out, so take its results as a general indicator only. If the program highlights something you’ll need to investigate the file further yourself.
SharePoint is software introduced by Microsoft to develop detailed sites or internet application for small or medium sized business. SharePoint 2010 is the most popular software, but more and more companies are starting to use SharePoint 2013 migration tools to update to the newest version.
SharePoint offers an exceptional platform for advanced file sharing, file management, and editing shared papers which permits everybody to collaborate and make choices together. There are actually tons of certified SharePoint designers that can help businesses establish advanced desktop computer application. These applications can assist companies to expand their company environment for regulated workflow and joint working. MOSS (Microsoft Workplace SharePoint Server) and WSS (Windows SharePoint Solutions) are both significant specification of the SharePoint platform which adds even more collaboration possibilities for users.
Here are 14 ways that SharePoint applications can help businesses of all sizes work more efficiently: