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Netflix Throttling Instant Video Streaming 207

rsk writes "For the last few weeks I've been experiencing terrible streaming video performance from Netflix on both my Xbox 360 and PC. While my Xbox 360 would at least stream at a lower resolution, my PC cannot seem to avoid 2-hr. buffering times before playback even started. I smelled shenanigans and started digging. With some help finding the debug menu for the streaming video player, I set out to figure out why playback was so slow. It seems that Netflix is significantly throttling Watch Instantly users (on the PC) down to an unusable cap — in my case, 48 kbps — on a per-connection basis."
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Netflix Throttling Instant Video Streaming

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  • Hrm. (Score:4, Informative)

    by pregister ( 443318 ) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @02:58AM (#27198239)

    I dunno. I used it tonight and the speeds were fine even when fast fowarding through slow parts of my selected movie.

    I'll try later tonight. The streaming is the only reason I use netflix. I haven't actually returned the one DVD I have in the last few months.

  • Clearwire (Score:3, Funny)

    by Tubal-Cain ( 1289912 ) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @02:59AM (#27198249) Journal

    It seems that Netflix is significantly throttling Watch Instantly users down to an unusable cap â" in my case, 48 kbps

    That's about the cumulative bandwidth Clearwire gives me on some days.

    (on the PC)

    They must have partnered with Apple.

  • by _Sprocket_ ( 42527 ) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @02:59AM (#27198251)

    Netflix. Silverlight. And a series of tubes.

    Ten movies streaming across that, that Internet, and what happens to your own personal Internet? I just the other day got...an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday. I got it yesterday [Tuesday]. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially.

    They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.

    • by b4upoo ( 166390 )

      It is the carrier's job to provide more tubes, larger tubes, better tubes etc.. If they don't do a good job they need to get out of the industry.

  • I had streaming issues through Xbox Live tonight. I thought it was just me.
  • by yincrash ( 854885 ) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @03:00AM (#27198255)
    demand might be spiking more than they are used to and cannot keep up
    were you watching during a high peak time? maybe they need to invest in more bandwidth.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I went through all of the motions in TFA (downloading this [mozilla.org] plugin and then using its option to save the target of this [llnwd.net] link and got a very high speed download (it read 1.3M/sec), but what surprised me more is that I was actually able to download the .wmv file at all! (note, I don't use NetFlix) Of course it wouldn't play because of the DRM and the fact that my lazy-man's searches for cracking have led to dead-ends.

      Oh well, back to TPB!
  • Not Netflix fault. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 15, 2009 @03:01AM (#27198261)

    Slashdot should actually do a little fact checking before posting stories such as this. I have the Netflix service and it works perfectly, the problem here is the user's internet connection or internal network. The testing he utilized tripped of a DDOS on the Limelight network content delivery service.

    Netflix doesn't even deliver the streams to individual users, so if this were an actual problem Limelight would be the one to go after, not netflix. Again, there is nothing wrong with netflix, the problem is behind the keyboard.

    • by thatskinnyguy ( 1129515 ) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @03:44AM (#27198389)
      Where are my mod points when I need them? I streamed 3 movies tonight using my POS local cable provider and it was perfectly fine. I think I ought to quit bitching about my cable provider now. This guy showed me things could be worse.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by spire3661 ( 1038968 )

        I watched 4 hours of Netflix last night without a hitch. Granted it was really late at night, but it was just like watching normal TV.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by frapas ( 855202 )
      Hi agree. I used netflix whith a domestic ADSL from Italy. Netflix block instant watch outside USA, so I used a simple virtual server whith squid http proxy located in USA. Netflix worked fine nevertless the longest path !
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jimbudncl ( 1263912 )
      This is correct. Diagnosing bandwidth issues between two points on the internet is extremely non-trivial. If you don't have access to every device between you and someone else, the best you can do is make educated guesses. Now, if he looked in the debugging info and saw:

      "Throttling this luser's stream to 48Kbps, mwuahahahaha!"

      THEN, that'd be something worth reporting ;)

      On a side note, my data center's main bandwidth is provided by Limelight Networks. Some offsite backups are sent to a separate
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by orkybash ( 1013349 )
      Slashdot? Fact checking? You must be new here.
  • Faulty reasoning? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the_enigma_1983 ( 742079 ) <enigma@s t r u d e l - h o u nd.com> on Sunday March 15, 2009 @03:03AM (#27198265) Homepage
    From tfa

    Now we have confirmed that Netflix is throttling instant streaming PC-users to a rediculous 50 or 60 KB/sec cap

    That's an interesting argument. He showed that each thread was throttled to 50 or 60 KB/sec, but he never had any evidence to support his argument atht it's netflix at fault, not his ISP or some other internet issue.

    • Re:Faulty reasoning? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JWSmythe ( 446288 ) <jwsmythe@@@jwsmythe...com> on Sunday March 15, 2009 @03:37AM (#27198363) Homepage Journal

          I saw this, and was curious. According to the article, he found another user on the same ISP as him, who complained about the same problem.

          My guess would be, the users provider (not Netflix or their streaming provider) has noted substantial traffic on a particular port, from particular IP's, and since that was a substantial load on their network, they've throttled the per-connection rate down.

          Since other users have noted that they are not having the same problem, I would conclude that it is the users provider that is the problem.

          It's still something to complain about, they just need to direct the complaint to the correct party.

          Years ago, when I was a RoadRunner (now BrightHouse) customer, I had speeds in excess of 3Mb/s. At the time, they were using the same Tier1 provider as my office AND had a peering very very close by (same city). They started throttling various things, including port 80. I complained, and they said they could only provide 768Kb/s (again, this is years ago).

          One day, I set up a PPP over SSH tunnel between my home computer, and my desktop at work. Transferring large binary files from my office network to my home computer was much closer to the original 3Mb/s speeds. Shutting down the link and acting like a normal user, my speeds were at 768Kb/s. They wouldn't admit to the throtting of port 80 from my office network, but I had conclusively proved it.

          I set up my home firewall (Linux PC, my own rules) to route all of my traffic over the PPP over SSH tunnel, so I was happy. It theoretically incurred a little extra network traffic on my office line, but we were billed on 95th percentile (as most Tier 1 providers do), and when I was at home was our slow time, and a T3, so my 3Mb/s peak was nothing in the grand scheme of things. More importantly, most of my large transfers were from home to work and back.

          Providers can set up for just about anything they'd like. They shouldn't. They get a lot of people screaming when they do too much, but for the most part it's just something you live with. Maybe they're throttling everything going to/from the Netflix servers. Maybe they're only throttling port 80 traffic. Maybe, maybe, maybe. There are lots of things they could be doing.

          All other things being equal, if you scp a file, or request it by HTTP, it should get very close to the same speeds.

          As I've found, it's usually the residential/small business providers who do this kind of throttling. I've never seen this kind of thing with Tier 1 providers. Unfortunately, none of us can afford a fast link with a Tier 1 provider at home, so we have to bend to the will of our residential providers. I was lucky once a long time ago, in another city, at another office. I was close enough (1/2 mile) and had a clear line of sight to work. I set up a wireless bridge between the office and my house. I had 11Mb/s (years ago also, and standard for the time) link from the office to my house. They had just a T1 loop to our datacenter. After hours, when no one was working (like, after 5pm) I had my own T1 to use. I could do great transfers to the office, and was pleased with my anonymity. I was rather removed from where the line seemed to terminate (the datacenter). It wasn't completely anonymous though. We had documented internally what IP's were assigned to my house (1 for my NAT), so if there ever was any funny business, it would have landed with me. But, what if a subpoena was served on the provider to find the user of the IP? It could have been at the datacenter. It could have been at the office. It could have been off of that funny little antenna sitting in the window of a coworker (with the best line of sight to my house).

          Oh, the good ol' days. I wish I had my own private T1 still. It was so much nicer than any of the residential lines I've had, even though they advertise faster speeds.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Yeah, it is nice. I've had a T1 line at home ever since I got fed up with a previous ISP blocking outgoing port 22 (!), and decided I'd rather pay for business-class service than put up with stuff like that any longer. I'll take my 1.5Mbps that I actually get consistently and with a 99.99% availability SLA and my own /27 over some cable company offering 8Mbps oversubscribed by a factor of fifty with weird blocks and caps and throttling any day.
        • They were blocking WHAT? {sigh}

          I had always moved SSH to another port anyways, just to make it that much harder on the script kiddies, but still, what were they thinking?

          I'm lucky now. I'm on a 20Mb/20Mb Business FIOS line, so no complaints there. I ran through everything with them before we agreed to it. "Look, we're migrating a small server farm, I have to have no blocked ports, no throttling, reverse DNS, and at least a /25 block". And that's what we got.

          • by fm6 ( 162816 )

            I had always moved SSH to another port anyways, just to make it that much harder on the script kiddies, but still, what were they thinking?

            They were thinking, "We're being proactive".

            As always, security is more theater than actually securing stuff.

      • by boaworm ( 180781 )

        Huh? :-)

        A "T1" connection is quite slow by todays standards, capping out at around 1.5Mbps.

        So first of all you never had any 11 Mbps through it, and secondly you never would want one today.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Signal_1 [wikipedia.org]

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          He didn't claim to have 11Mbps through a T1, he claimed (quite believably) to have an 11Mbps wireless connection to his office which, in turn, had a T1 connection to the rest of the net.

          While a T1 is 1.5Mbps maximum, he is saying that since that's a fully committed rate (not oversubscribed) and doesn't come with dirty tricks like forged RST packets and such like the residential providers employ, he gets more real performance from the actual 1.5Mbps of a T1 than from the marketing 6Mbps offered by a resident

        • First off, this was years ago.

          Second, I had 11Mb/s to the office, which was over my wireless link. Two high gain antennas pointed at each other from 1/2 mile. Our theoretically range with those antennas and the hardware backing it up was about 30 miles. Since they were a rather narrow beam, I couldn't even hear the signal from ground level, so there were no snoopy people problems.

          My speed to the datacenter was 1.544Mb/s, but most of my large transfers were fro

  • by Anonymous Coward
    FYI there was a misconfiguration in the Netflix service (I'm a Netflix admin). The throttling was SUPPOSED to be 480 kpbs, which we think should be sufficient. It's already fixed.
  • Tell them why.
  • bad conclusions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Helix150 ( 177049 ) * on Sunday March 15, 2009 @03:11AM (#27198287)

    I read this article, and it seems to me this guy came to a conclusion before he came to an experiment.

    What he DID prove is that a Netflix server in LA was only handing out 50KB/sec per http socket. Most web type servers will do this when under heavy load- better to give everybody a little bit than a few people a lot and the others nothing. I think this is correct behavior for a heavy-load situation.

    However, when he accuses them of throttling, along with the way this article is titled, STRONGLY implies that they are throttling specific users who use too much. If he wanted to prove this the test is simple- log out of netflix and log in with a friend's account, preferably a friend who doesn't stream much.

    Throttling also implies that Netflix is intentionally reducing the connection quality. I see no logical reason for them to do this to EVERYbody, as that would make the Instant Watch service useless for everybody. Far more likely, as stated above, is that he's on an overloaded server.

    So my take on it is this article is incompletely researched, draws a bad conclusion (which doesn't make much sense) from too little evidence, and doesn't perform the one test needed to actually verify it's claim.

    • Re:bad conclusions (Score:5, Interesting)

      by wdr1 ( 31310 ) * <wdr1@PARISpobox.com minus city> on Sunday March 15, 2009 @03:15AM (#27198303) Homepage Journal

      Agreed, I thought the same. The most telling was using low-latency as an indication that he should be seeing high bandwidth. Not necessarily the case.


    • And don't forget the fact that they went to unlimited views because only a small number of people were using the feature at all. It would be somewhat understandable if the feature was more widely used and they had a much larger selection available via instant view.

      But that being said, I just started playing a movie and there's no slow down compared to usual. Definitely better than last time, but only by the amount of bandwidth added to my own connection. Definitely not anything to support the idea of a cap.

    • by altek ( 119814 )

      This is interesting to me, as I also live in the LA area, and have TERRIBLE performance the last few weeks (or months) on Netflix streaming. It used to be great (esp before it went on Xbox Live).

      And I only use it 1-2 times per week at most, as usually it ends in extreme frustration with constant rebuffering at a very low bitrate.

      I'm actually ready to cancel my acct with them, I only kept it as the streaming became so useful to me, and it's not any more.

  • by Swift Kick ( 240510 ) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @03:23AM (#27198333)

    In his blog lambasting Neftlix, he says:

    "Bringing up the Status window I noticed my download performance was a far cry from my 7 mbps speed, but rather a measly 0.48 mbps, about 1/14th the speed of my line"

    In the article summary above, he's now saying 48 kbps.

    0.48mbps is actually 480kbps, so he's off by a factor of 10, which (while still pretty crappy) makes it sound much worse than it actually is. So which one is it, OP?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      48 kbps == 480 kbps


  • 48 kbps? (Score:3, Informative)

    by pgn674 ( 995941 ) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @03:27AM (#27198337) Homepage
    In the blog post, Riyad Kalla says it was going at "0.48 mbps" (should be Mbps BTW), which is 480 kbps, not 48 kbps. Still slow for high quality streaming video, but much faster than dialup.
  • by nokiator ( 781573 ) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @03:36AM (#27198359) Journal
    There is simply not enough data to support this conclusion. Reduced amount of streaming bandwidth could be due a sustained congestion at any point in the network between the Netflix server and your client. A lot of ISPs oversubscribe their access network very heavily based on statistical multiplexing assumptions that simply do not work when even a small percentage of customers on a subnet are streaming video.

    If there is any throttling going on, it is more likely that your ISP is responsible for it. Cable companies and DSL providers who are getting into the video on demand business may not like Netflix beating them to market with a more cost effective product...

  • FFS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by retech ( 1228598 ) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @03:56AM (#27198413)
    KDawson, you're pissed at Blockbuster and now Netflix. Can no one please you?

    Perhaps you should go back to reading books and not use /. as your personal pulpit.

    Yes I do feel 2 posts in 8 hrs is excessive. And yes I fully expect your "friends" to mod me down.
    • by kklein ( 900361 )
      Could be worse. Could be Cory Doctorow.
    • by wampus ( 1932 )

      I turned off kdawson stories for awhile, then I realized how boring slashdot was without the tinfoil hat bullshit and turned them back on. I'm expecting Bat Boy to become an editor soon.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @04:03AM (#27198429)

    Netflix streaming seems to work just fine to my PC - I just tried it. It works fine to my Tivo as well. On occasion, there are problems - but as a reasonably intelligent adult, my first assumption isn't that Netflix is causing these problems intentionally. And you know what? If I go back and try again later, things usually have sorted themselves out!

    I have to wonder about the average age and/or maturity level of some Slashdot submitters, as well as the editors approving these "stories"...

  • Pure FUD (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mike Buddha ( 10734 ) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @05:22AM (#27198587)

    Wow, is Slashdot making a news article out of every morons malware induced performance issues? I watch Netflix Instant View DAILY (love the Kojak, baby) and have NEVER had issues with bandwidth limiting in the last few weeks or ever for that matter. After I read the headline, I fired up Stargate Continuum on my PC (highest quality stream, according to the service menu) and my Xbox 360 (IN HD NO LESS) and it popped up instantly with no quality issues and no delay. Next time, try contacting your crappy ISP before you waste our time with your sky-is-falling BS.

    • heh, I watch Kojak too, almost every night at work between tech support calls.

      But yeah, this BS 'article' needs to be updated with an apology for being so dumb.
  • by leereyno ( 32197 ) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @06:29AM (#27198781) Homepage Journal

    One of my neighbors is a netflix subscriber. His work is such that he HAS to have access to the internet all the time. So he has both DSL and Cable through a router that allows him to use both. This router allows him to direct traffic through one ISP or the other. When he directs netflix through the cable connection, the video stream stutters and skips. When he directs it through the DSL connection, the problems disappear. This is despite the fact that the cable connection has a nominal bitrate that is much higher.

    The conclusion that he came to is that his cable provider is messing with netflix because it is competition for their own on-demand service.

    I think something similar may be happening here.

    This makes a lot more sense than the notion that netflix would drive away customers by providing a broken service.

  • Just because they perceive there to be extra capacity doesn't mean there is. Whenever you use additional TCP connections, you take bandwidth at the expense of everyone else because TCP (Jacobson's algorithm) rations on a per-flow basis and not a per-user basis.
    http://formortals.com/Home/tabid/36/EntryID/170/Default.aspx [formortals.com]
  • by mrboyd ( 1211932 ) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @07:09AM (#27198869)
    That guy doesn't what he's talking about. I stopped reading when he equated his latency with his bandwidth...

    With an average of a 50ms response time, Iâ(TM)m going to go ahead and say my 7 mbps Qwest DSL service is working as advertised,

    Most likely his provider blows.

  • He WASN'T throttled to 48Kbps -- slower than a 56Kbps dialup modem.
    He WAS throttled to 480Kbps, and was getting download speeds of about 50K (that's kiloBYTES) per second (per connection).

    TFA:"Bringing up the Status window I noticed my download performance was a far cry from my 7 mbps speed, but rather a measly 0.48 mbps...:"

    0.48Mbps = 480Kbps (kiloBITS/sec) = roughly about 48KBps (kiloBYTES/sec)

    So the /. story summary makes things sound an order of magnitude worse than they are. But you know, what's

  • This is ridiculous. I know plenty of people, myself included, who have no trouble streaming Netflix. I stream to a Mac connected to our home theater with almost no buffering.

    It's obviously this guy's connection, and the obvious solution is to change ISPs. There doesn't have to be some conspiracy to throttle throughput. It could simply be congestion. Performance where I live is always better at off peak times.

  • netflix has been throttling back lately. Especially on my 360, HD content always starts out as HD and then stops because the buffer runs out. My comcast cable is setup to burst the first x number of MB in any download or stream. So, I get 40-60Mbps for the first 20-30MB of the stream or download, and then it's down to 6Mbps. Netflix sees this as my internet connection slowing and turns down the bitrate dramatically. PC streaming was generally lower res than the 360 though.

    I also discovered that the bit

    • Unless you have a Docsis 3.0 modem, it is physically impossible for you to get 40-60Mbps. The calculation code is wrong somewhere.

      Docsis 2.0 (North American annex-B) uses a single 6Mhz channel, with the highest available encoding being QAM-256 (8 bits per sample). The standardized sample rate is 5.36Msps, so *=8 gives the true peak throughput of 42.88 Mbps, of which ~38Mbps is usable data.

      I see the same thing when starting a batch download with DownThemAll, which reports 6+ MBps regularly when startin

      • I'm not saying that it's accurate, I'm just saying what my system tells me.

        http://www.speedtest.net/result/430414855.png [speedtest.net]

        I just ran that while replying.

        I should also say that my cable runs over fiber until it gets to the neighborhood.

        I don't have a docsis 3.0 modem and my service isn't docsis 3.0

        comcast's sandvine tactics are fudging the numbers somewhere.

  • The approach is simple: Any time you have a problem watching a Netflix Instant View movie, contrive a grand and complex reason as to how Netflix is secretly (insert devious deed here) your (insert desired activity here). Sprinkle it with important sounding numbers, straw men and kittens and your done.
    • by dzfoo ( 772245 )

      And ponies--don't forget the ponies. Although, as we all know, they are in low abundance around the interwebs.


  • I'd call/email Netflix. Their customer/technical support has been excellent every time I've used it, which is a shocking rarity these days (especially if you have to deal with Verizon and their ilk on a regular basis).

    Netflix are one of those weird companies that still seem to give a damn about their customers. It's one of the things that keeps me a subscriber.

  • if you are experiencing those kind of buffering times you must be using the crappy old player. Try upgrading to the new player.

    • If you're seeing these download speeds, your're using the new (Silverlight) player. Reimage your PC and use the old WMP.
  • Welcome to str..e...a.m.inn.g v.....id..e..o

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!