The U.S. Is (Just About) the World’s Worst Place to Watch ‘House of Cards’

Read this story while you wait for the show to buffer.

(NETFLIX)
National Journal
Alex Brown and Laura Ryan
Feb. 13, 2014, midnight

Sorry, House of Cards fans — Amer­ica is just about the worst place on Earth to catch the much-an­ti­cip­ated second sea­son of the Net­flix hit.

That’s be­cause U.S. Net­flix view­ers will, on av­er­age, watch it at slower stream­ing speeds than just about any­where else.

A year ago, the U.S. was rather middle-of-the-pack when it came to av­er­age Net­flix stream­ing speed. But while most oth­er coun­tries have boos­ted their speed, the U.S. av­er­age dropped nearly 10 per­cent over the last year.

And as of last month, the av­er­age U.S. Net­flix speed bested only that of Mex­ico — and just barely — and of Ar­gen­tina, where Net­flix just ar­rived last month.

Much of the U.S.’s dropoff can be at­trib­uted to two of its biggest In­ter­net ser­vice pro­viders. Com­cast and Ve­r­i­zon cus­tom­ers have seen their Net­flix speed drop by around 10 to 25 per­cent in the past year.

Ve­r­i­zon FiOS had the smal­lest speed drop, but still fell from No. 2 to No. 7 among U.S. pro­viders since Novem­ber of 2012. Com­cast plummeted nearly 25 per­cent, and Ve­r­i­zon DSL — the slow­est-stream­ing ISP in the world — also fell in ex­cess of 25 per­cent.

In light of the re­cent court de­cision over­turn­ing net-neut­ral­ity rules, some may look askance at this slow­down be­cause the de­cision cleared the way for pro­viders to charge high-band­width web­sites more — or slow traffic to those same sites. (Stephanie Stamm)

But Ve­r­i­zon’s and Com­cast’s speeds began slow­ing down no­tice­ably months be­fore the D.C. Cir­cuit Court’s de­cision. Net­flix CEO Reed Hast­ings re­portedly does not be­lieve the lag­gard speeds are the res­ult of any mis­chief on Ve­r­i­zon’s part, and isn’t overly con­cerned that Ve­r­i­zon will do so in the fu­ture.

In­stead, de­mand is the likely cul­prit. Net­flix makes up an out­size share of In­ter­net traffic. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study, the band­width glut­ton ac­counts for al­most 30 per­cent of traffic at peak hours.

This trend isn’t likely to change any­time soon as sub­scrip­tions for the video-stream­ing ser­vice con­tin­ue to roll in. Net­flix ad­ded 2.3 mil­lion sub­scribers in its fourth quarter, and many people at­trib­ute this growth to its ori­gin­al pro­grams, like House of Cards.

As a quick fix, Net­flix has been en­cour­aging In­ter­net ser­vice pro­viders to use Open Con­nect, a pro­gram that im­proves stream­ing qual­ity by al­low­ing ISP’s to pre-down­load Net­flix’s most pop­u­lar pro­grams in ad­vance of on­line TV’s rush hour. It doesn’t hurt that that saves Net­flix a pretty penny. Ma­jor ISPs like Ve­r­i­zon and Com­cast, however, have not signed up for Open Con­nect.

So where’s the best place to watch House of Cards? On av­er­age, ac­cord­ing to Net­flix, it’s the Neth­er­lands, which has only offered the stream­ing ser­vice for four-plus months.

There’s some solace to be had for U.S. view­ers, al­beit very few of them. Those lucky enough to have ac­cess to Google Fiber — the tech gi­ant’s ul­tra­fast In­ter­net ser­vice that’s de­ployed in only a few U.S. mu­ni­cip­al­it­ies — en­joy the highest-speed Net­flix view­ing in the world.

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