Netflix’s Network Congestion Message Rolling Out On All ISPs, Not Just Verizon

As some Netflix customers using Verizon as their ISP have recently found out, Netflix has been working on a way to notify consumers when they feel that many clients are experiencing congestion on a certain segment of a certain ISP’s network. Many in the media reported today that select Verizon customers have gotten a message in their Netflix video window saying that “The Verizon network is crowded right now” and that Netflix is “Adjusting video for smoother playback”. While some suggested this new Netflix message is specific to Verizon, it’s not.

These messages are already showing up on multiple networks and is rolling out in a phased deployment. They are not everywhere yet, but will be soon. Netflix has confirmed they will display these messages whether or not they have a direct connection (paid or free) in place with the ISP. Netflix said their goal in doing this is to help their subscribers understand when their experience is degrading based on their network provider (as opposed to their home WiFi, etc). When Netflix feels that many clients are experiencing congestion on a certain segment of a certain ISP’s network, they will display the message for clients who are experiencing degradation.

Of course we don’t how Netflix defines “degradation” or the methodology they are using to determine the threshold of when a message is displayed or not, but they aren’t only doing this to Verizon. Not surprisingly, Verizon isn’t happy with the message and other ISPs won’t be as well because Netflix’s message is very vague. Saying any network is “crowded”, really does not mean much, and it does not say where the congestion is in the network, or who’s responsible for it. I have asked Netflix to release their methodology on what they consider a poor user experience and how they define “degradation” and will update this post if they provide more details. Netflix replied and gave out some details on the methodology.

Updated 6/5: Netflix says their methodology is if you are streaming from an ISP/Designated Market Area pair where (1) the average bitrate is poor (SD), (2) there is high congestion (the ratio between peak and trough traffic is abnormally compressed), and (3) they see a high percentage of sessions with a rebuffer, then the player displays the warning during the initial buffering at play start. If those criteria are met AND the user is actually streaming at a low bitrate (SD or below) then Netflix also displays an indicator if the play control bar is activated during the playback. That’s how it works now, but Netflix may modify/tune as they continue to roll out and learn more.

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  • This is exactly what Netflix should do. Otherwise customers think it is a problem with Netflix, which hurts their service. Whether or not Netflix should pay more for network access is another matter.

    • Guest

      Actually this methodology is not completely accurate nor fair. For example, if there is congestion on the Netflix CDN server or on the Netflix data center uplink connection (both of which may occur and there are many other such examples). According to the formula Dan listed above, it would trigger an error message blaming the problem on the ISP, whereas the culprit is actually Netflix. Netflix are trying to drive public opinion against the ISPs, which are obviously not saints, and even though in some cases the ISPs are to be blamed, it’s definitely not in all cases.

      • Jon_Irenicus

        It sounds like the vast majority of cases are related to the actions (or inactions) of the ISPs.

        It’s kind of like the trolley problem. ISPs scream to the high heavens that they are not pushing the man off the bridge to screw up traffic flow, but when you take a closer look it seems like the main tactic is simply to refuse to pull the switch that diverts the train from striking people tied to the tracks.

        If oversubscribed interconnects are the problem, whose responsibility is it to upgrade and maintain that infrastructure?

        It seems like the onus is on Verizon and other ISPs, I assume that because the interconnects seem to function just fine between the larger transit providers, but when it gets to the terminating monopolies, at least some of them, the pathways narrow become clogged. Are these expensive upgrades? Does it matter? Are they mostly one time charges? Verizon blames netflix for the traffic, as if netflix is the freeloader here. Verizon customers are the ones requesting that traffic from netflix.

        Verizon would have an astonishingly weak case to make to people when trying to charge more money for higher tiers of internet service if not for services like netflix. Why do you need more than base broadband speed? To check email? To load images on web pages? To stream audio? Play online games?

        None of that is terribly bandwidth intensive. None of it. There are two primary killer apps for higher broadband at the moment.

        -torrenting (mostly illegal)
        -streaming video (perfectly legal added revenue stream to content creators)

        Verizon and comcast know this, they actually use the promise and demands of video streaming (including multiple video streams in households with multiple internet users) to give their customers a solid reason to upgrade their internet connections to higher tier services.

        It is through the existence and use of video streaming services like twitch/youtube/hulu/netflix/etc that create the willingness for more broadband demand. Verizon makes more money because of those services existing.

        If ANYONE is freeloading it is those ISPs who take the benefits to their added bottom line of customers dropping an extra 20/30/40/60 dollars a month for higher internet service, and then turn around and refuse to spend a fraction of those profits to make sure the interconnects sending traffic to their customers are not filled to capacity.

        People like Dan seem incredibly unmoved or perhaps even sympathetic by this type of behavior. I find it disgraceful.

        I don’t care if this is how the internet has always worked, or has operated for the past decade. I care about what is and is not reasonable. And my expectations of an ISP are not so cripplingly low as Dans.

        I don’t expect an ISP to guarantee traffic speeds coming from anywhere on the internet. But at the very least, when content is coming ALL the way to the front door of the ISPs network with no issue, I expect them to make sure that that traffic is able to freely flow to their customers requesting it. And some of them were not doing that. Period. If THEY need to pony up some of their profits to upgrade those interconnects, then so be it.

        Don’t bitch to me and others about netflix using the wrong pathways to get onto the network. Save that for Dan. I have higher expectations.

        • danrayburn

          You say it “sounds like the vast majority of cases are related to” the ISP. That could be. But we don’t know for sure. Why didn’t Netflix put out any data showing it’s a Verizon specific problem? Where is the data?

          Again, you say “seems like”. Using terms like “sounds like”, “seems like”, “assume”, etc. are not concrete.

          • Jon_Irenicus

            The entire enterprise is opaque. If Verizon and other major ISPs are not doing anything to degrade their network (either by direct action or inaction [allowing the interconnects from the outside to saturate and become oversubscribed]) then they should be able to show that pretty clearly. Show us that the traffic through the interconnects they take part in maintaining are not over saturated or not theirs to upgrade at all.

            They have not done that. That would be an easy way to shut me up, and those like me. It would suggest to us that yes, the issue probably has nothing to do with their network and what they control. But they won’t do that because they know they have a hand in how that traffic is flowing into their network.

            Perhaps the reason they deliberately chose to refuse upgrading those interconnects is that they don’t want to pay for the expense of upgrading the bandwidth there. If that is the case, then they need to make a clear argument why they think that is reasonable. I have yet to hear one. Is it too expensive? Will it meaningfully hurt their bottom line? Do they not make enough revenue to cover the expense based off what they currently charge their subscribers?

            How much would a proper upgrade cost? Is it mostly a one time cost or recurring? Show me this great financial burden they have that cannot be easily covered by subscriber fees.

            No? None of my business or prerogative to know?

            Too bad. If you don’t want me or the public lifting up the rocks in the forest and seeing all the grimy creatures underneath with horrified eyes, then maintain better service. They failed to do that, and now we all want a closer look at what’s going on and why. And pawning off the responsibility on Netflix for not choosing the right transit provider is a cop out. It presumes the ISPs have zero agency in how traffic routed into their network, have no capacity and responsibility to see congested pathways into their network and upgrade those interconnects. ISPs with far fewer resources like cablevision seem to be able to handle the inflow just fine, but not Verizon? Why? Nothing to do about how Verizon operates? I don’t absolve them of ANYTHING until they show us that they are not at fault.

          • gary

            A provider like Comcast or Time Warner want to sell their own VOD services and the Netflix, Amazon Prime,Fandor, MUBI type services compete for those dollars.

            For my work I need to screen new movies on vimeo and other services. But the Comcast pipes to me can’t handle them with constant crashing, freezing and digital breakup. They send techs out who can’t improve things and try to charge me.
            Last night a very nice Comcast lady admitted that they get constant complaints about not being able to properly stream NetFlix content.

  • James


  • Michael Clark

    An network is as strong as its weakest link. And when you join networks together like an ISP, Netflix and your home, you are bound to have weak links. If Netflix is not able to carry that many ISP’s then it is their network, not the ISP.

  • I’ve been on Twitter and live-chat with Netflix this week about the problem of constant re-buffering, the frustrating “loading” messages on screen, interrupting the stream. (I’m in Canada.) Just to be certain, I went through all their steps — although after two years of the same setup with no issues I was already pretty sure it was NOT my network — and, in the end, my wired and wireless network at home is fine. The only issue is with Netflix. So they tell me to contact my ISP about having the Internet upgraded. Yes, as in the entire Net infrastructure. Apparently it is the lowly Netflix customer’s responsibility to ensure that Netflix will actually work. If my 4-6 Mbps DSL line is suddenly insufficient, what am I supposed to do? Oddly, this problem only started this month. To quote, “We wish we could control the connection that your ISP provides so you never experience rebuffering, but we provide the content and your ISP provides the connection – they’ll be able to shed some light.” That’s like an auto manufacturer blaming the gas station because the car they designed and built no longer runs on available fuels, and telling the customer to encourage the oil industry to provide something different.