Occasionally, Internet users experience a lagging video game or a stuttering YouTube video. We do our best to minimize buffering and other slowdowns at Time Warner Cable, but this is normal for broadband users at any Internet service provider, at least some of the time. The reasons, as we’ll explain below, have to do with the way the Internet works.
A small subset of our customers, however, seem to think we are intentionally degrading their service.
If I were to sum up these kinds of complaints, it would go something like this: “Hulu and YouTube wouldn’t intentionally degrade their services and provide a subpar experience, but for some reason, it makes total sense that Time Warner Cable would by throttling customers’ traffic.”
Our standard response has been a simple, “We don’t throttle traffic.” That’s because we don’t. Some people want us to elaborate, so here goes:
The Internet is not as simple as one wire connecting a website’s servers to a customer’s home. Traffic originates in countless places, heading toward billions of end-user destinations. Each network that carries web traffic is itself a collection of a number of complicated technological and business relationships. As traffic flows from one area of the Internet to another, it passes through this network of technologies, agreements, and protocols and culminates in each particular user experience.
We’ve invested billions of dollars to ensure that our networks deliver the best possible experience regardless of the source or nature of the traffic. However, the traffic only moves as fast as the weakest link. And when traffic travels across multiple networks, each with its own relationships, slowdowns and other problems can and do occur.
Because the Internet is a network made of networks, there is no central control over the Internet’s entire performance as a whole. No single participant in this ecosystem can guarantee performance to end users at a particular level of service.
TCP/IP transmission – the basic protocol used on the Internet – is designed to deal with the congestion and other problems that inevitably will occur on interconnected networks of this nature by dropping and reordering packets of data, and taking other similar steps. Performance can also vary depending on the number of users in a household at a particular moment, the number and types of simultaneous uses they are pursuing, the time of day, and network congestion.
At Time Warner Cable, we interconnect with a diverse portfolio of different networks to get traffic on and off of our network as effectively and efficiently as possible. But each network makes its own decisions on how to best send or receive traffic. Each network provider has its own level of investment and service commitments, and so quality levels can vary greatly among them.
Websites and other content providers make their own arrangements about how to get traffic to and from the Internet. And each participant in the Internet ecosystem makes its own decision about the formats and equipment to use, and each has its own budget. So the levels of quality vary greatly at the source as well as the network level.
Also, some, but not all, online video providers have the resources to store copies, or caches, of their videos on servers that are a part of a Content Delivery Network, or CDN. When a user clicks on a link to a particular video, the Internet provider can quickly determine where the nearest cached copy of the video is on the CDN and deliver it. More popular videos will have more cached copies, with better performance, while less popular videos may be stored in fewer, further places.
This is one of the reasons why “Gangnam Style,” when coming from a major provider, tends to load faster and play more smoothly than some ponytail guy’s video of himself covering Rush on the dulcimer.
Delivery of video and other data over the Internet is a complex matter with many, many variables contributing to each particular end-user experience. But we can assure you that, at Time Warner Cable, we don’t throttle traffic. We do our absolute best to provide high-quality Internet service, with a variety of speed tiers to address customers’ particular needs and pocketbook, regardless of the source or type of traffic.