Friday, August 22, 2014

Brighthouse Responds (Sort Of)

by SandWyrm


I'll say this, Brighthouse Networks (BHN) cares about its reputation (unlike some game companies we all know). Within 12 hours of my last post on only being able to access Netflix through a VPN the other night, I received an email from Gary Doda, a BHN forums manager. Gary is anxious to communicate his company's side of the story, up to a point. But while I'll admit that the issue is more complex than I initially thought, my own stance is largely unchanged.

Hi Gary!

Here's Gary's initial email to me:
August 20th, 10:26 AM
Re: http://theback40k.blogspot.com/2014/08/screw-you-brighthouse.html

Please reach out to me when you have a moment and I will be happy to address any service issues as well as explain what is really going on when you used a VPN to connect to Netflix.   There is actually a perfectly good reason why you experienced a positive outcome with the VPN and we have discussed this at length recently in our forums.   To be clear however Bright House Networks does not impede, block or “throttle” any user traffic including streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu.

Looking forward to hearing from you…

Gary Doda
Forums Manager
Corporate Communications
Bright House Networks
I'll spare my readers the rest of the initial back-and-forth, but Gary wants me to call him on the phone so he can explain his company's position more 'personally' (privately). I told him that I prefer email, and that I intended to post his side of this issue here on the blog. For obvious reasons, he doesn't want to do that. 

Digging through the BHN forums though, I did find a thread where a BHN moderator directed people to the following CNet article on Net Neutrality:

It's an interesting read, and I'd recommend it for anyone who needs to educate themselves on the core  issues from the industry's perspective. I'll sum it up though, with a quick graphic that I made to illustrate the article's main points:


How Netflix Data Gets To Me


Normally, when I connect to Netflix, my data travels as directly as possible from the Netflix CDN (Content Distribution Network) interconnect through the BHN network, and then to me. If that interconnect is congested though, or is misconfigured on purpose, then Netflix is going to be slow or inaccessible. Even though the path from the interconnect to me may be completely un-throttled, as Brighthouse maintains.

But, if I connect to a VPN (encrypted connection) while on Brighthouse's network, then my VPN connection will travel to a computer on some other ISP's network, where that other computer will talk to Netflix. My Netflix data will then pass through that other ISP's CDN interconnect, then through its interconnect with Brighthouse, and then on to me.

If I connect to Verizon's network through my cell phone, the path is different. The data will pass through Verizon's CDN interconnect and Verizon's network, and will never touch BHN at all.

Capiche? It's the Netflix-BHN interconnect that's the problem.


And That Matters Because...?

The ISP industry's position is that Netflix is dumping loads of data on their network, and isn't paying them the proper fees. CDNs like Netflix used to have agreements with ISPs that as long as they gave each other roughly the same amount of data, they didn't have to bother paying each other anything. Which was a nice, pragmatic sort of deal. Easy for everybody.

But along came streaming video, which threw those agreements out of whack. Now, I send a few kilobytes in mouse clicks through an ISP to Netflix, and then Netflix starts sending hundreds of thousands of times more data back to me through my ISP. Since the traffic load between the ISP and Netflix is now so one-sided, the ISPs want to be paid for difference.

Why? Because that's how things 'have always been done' in their industry. There's no regulatory rules on this ISP/CDN relationship, so each ISP makes its own deals with Netflix (and other CDNs) individually. The FCC hasn't declared ISPs to be common carriers yet, in part because they don't want the headache of trying to set standard rules and rates for this kind of thing. Oh, and they just hired an ISP industry lobbyist to head up the FCC. That would be the other reason.

Netflix, of course, argues that ISPs should eat those costs (as some have) because Netflix adds value to their service (which is does). But most ISPs see dollar signs in front of their eyes, and also see Netflix as a competitor to their declining high-margin cable-TV businesses (awe...). So they are deliberately degrading their CDN interconnects in various ways, to put pressure on Netflix (and others) to come up with the cash. In many cases, they only run those interconnects at about 1/3 of their actual capacity.

But then they claim that they're not throttling, because they are not limiting the speed within their own network. Just the speed at which their network interconnects with Netflix's network. Which allows them to claim they don't throttle, and that we don't need Net Neutrality regulations. While doing something that looks a heck of a lot like throttling.

That's the issue in a nutshell.


But Gary Won't Engage

After reading that CNet article, I sent some questions to Gary, to make sure the CNet article reflected the BH view, and to see if he would engage in a real conversation. But instead he left a quick comment on my last post. Afraid, I guess, that I would mischaracterize what he had to say. 
SandWyrm, 
My name is Gary Doda and I am the Forums Manager for Bright House Networks. 
As you are already aware I have reached out to you and look forward to discussing the finer technical details with you by phone when you are ready. To be clear Bright House Networks does not impede or throttle any user traffic and that includes Netflix. The reason your VPN experiement resulted in a better experience is due to a change in return path via a less congested interconnect aka peer and nothing more. 
You might find this discussion at DSLR reports interesting where I assisted a customer with the very same work around https://secure.dslreports.com/forum/r29428667-Netflix-Streaming-Capped-at-3-MB-at-Night so this is nothing new. Wish you all the best.
Since Gary won't offer anything but the corporate line, and since I'm not interested in taking this discussion private, I'll have to assume that the CNet article cited in BH's forums is representative of BH's position. To which I will now reply.

Ahem...


Gary, although I have respect for you personally reaching out to me on this, Brighthouse (and the ISP industry in general) is still full of shit. Here is why...


Reason 1: Delivering Data Is Brighthouse's Job

Every month I pay your company $80 for data service, the maximum speed of which is 18 Mbps. Which is exceedingly slow and expensive compared to the rest of the world.


What I expect in return for all that money is to have Brighthouse deliver the data I ask for, at the speed we have agreed to, from anywhere in the world your network can access, to my home. Thus, your company has already been paid for the work it undertakes to build and maintain its network. If delivering my data reliably requires Brighthouse to build faster data interconnections with popular services such as Facebook, YouTube, or Netflix, then I expect you to do so. Anticipating demand, and making sure that you can deliver the data your customers want reliably is Brighthouse's reason for existing in the first place.


Reason 2: Purposefully Degrading Your CDN Interconnects Is Still Throttling

What I don't expect is for BHN to play games with services like Netflix, in the hope of annoying enough of their less tech-saavy customers that Netflix will finally give in. Which would result in them paying BHN a second time for the work that BHN's customers have already paid them for.

You and other Brighthouse employees have repeatedly told me that Brighthouse does not throttle any customer traffic, including traffic from Netflix. But the truth of that depends on your definition of throttling (see above). As a customer, I consider ANY purposeful reduction in capacity/reliability of your network's connection to a CDN like Netflix to be 'throttling'. Whether that reduction happens at the CDN interconnect, or within Brighthouse's network is immaterial to me.


In Comcast's case, they supposedly didn't throttle either. But their CDN connection to Netflix was... suspiciously inadequate... at precisely the same time that they entered into negotiations with Netflix over connection payments. Can you guess the point at which Netflix agreed to pay those fees to Comcast?

Fees which, by the way, prompted Netflix to raise its rates recently. Such that I'm now paying Comcast to do the work that its own customers should be paying for. Does that seem fair to you?


Reason 3: Not Re-Routing Around A Broken CDN Connection Is Still Throttling

One of the best features of the internet is that it's redundant. If some data can't get through one set of connections, then it can find another way. Just as you can drive your car down less-used back streets to get home when there's an accident causing a big traffic jam on the highway. It might take a little longer, but you still get home.

I couldn't get on Netflix the other night because of a problem with Brighthouse's interconnection to Netflix. The connections that I tried to make were so slow that they simply timed out as blank screens. But why? Even if there was a problem with the BHN/Netflix interconnection, my data should have been able get to me through the internet's side streets. In fact, this should've happened automatically, so why didn't it?

The only logical answer is that Brighthouse sorts out the data connections that their customers make to Netflix, and then force all of that streaming traffic to go through a few formal interconnects; whether they are over-conjested or not. When I used a VPN to connect to Netflix, I circumvented this sorting and my data went the 'long way around', just as it normally should.

So when you tell me this:
"The reason your VPN experiement resulted in a better experience is due to a change in return path via a less congested interconnect aka peer and nothing more."
Yes, that's exactly the reason. But you fail to tell everyone WHY the original interconnect was so congested, and BHN's role in it. You failed to tell us WHY your network failed to route my data around to a less congested interconnect on its own.

But the reason is known, and that's why we need the FCC to institute "hard" Net Neutrality. So that the CDN/ISP relationship is formalized. Such that ISPs stop looking to externalize their costs onto content providers instead of figuring out how to better serve their customers.

Again, I appreciate your reaching out Gary. But unless you've got something to add that doesn't sound like a BHN press release, we're done.

2 comments:

  1. Im sharing this for sure. I work for LiquidVPN. We charge people 6.00 per month for unlimited data. How is it that we can let people stream as much as they want for 6.00 per month and still pay the employees wages but BH cant for 80.00 per month?

    I would argue that its not so much the path but the source of the traffic. Do a traceroute to wherever your content is coming from then connect to a VPN in that same geographic area. Most likely the data will take the same path but over the VPN will still stream better.

    I have bright house at my house. If I connect to our VPN on port 443 or 1194 I lose about 50% of my bandwidth. If I connect to the SAME server on the SAME IP via the SAME protocol but on port 9201 I only lost 15% of my bandwidth. Smells like traffic shaping to me.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Bright House is a dirty word. Can't say I blame Gary for not sending an email.

    ReplyDelete

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