For my CIS-297 Information Visualization class, we were challenged to tell a story with data on a topic that is important to us. From there, we were told to shed light on a particular perspective to the story. With that, the immediate thought that came to mind is Netflix and their approach to net neutrality by exposing internet service providers. I’ve learned through the Washington Post that Netflix was purposely slowed down and had to make deals to allow more bandwidth towards their site. From the graph below, my story came alive. Although, unlike the Washington Post, I focused on multiple internet service providers to gain a bigger view.
My intended audience is specifically Netflix subscribers. According to CNN, Netflix recently surpassed 50,000,000 subscribers. This doesn’t consider the amount of people (or profiles) per account, but rather based upon who has subscribed. What makes this demographic so special is that it is geared towards the average family which means that the age range is about 5 years old to 55 years old with outliers far exceeding that range. Their members are comprised of different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. This is perfect because they all have a commonality – the ability to watch Netflix.
The average user may not necessarily understand the ideas behind Net Neutrality. They also are more than likely not to be part of the 1.1 million public comments that the FCC received on the matter. What they do understand is that not always is their Netflix running smoothly and they despise seeing the screen below.
Turns out Netflix has been getting strong-armed by internet service providers. This isn’t surprising as according to Sandvine, Netflix makes up 35% of all internet traffic. According to Netflix, the average user uses approximately 0.3 GB – 7 GB per hour. Fed up with the amount of usage Netflix was receiving, internet service providers began purposely slowing down the service. Outraged, users began blaming Netflix as they didn’t understand the issue. For this project, I looked at a number of internet service providers:
- Google Fiber – This is considered the fastest internet in the United States. This makes for a good comparison to the other internet service providers.
- Time Warner Cable
- Bright House
What relates these internet service providers is that they all have been recorded since November 2012 (and for the purpose of my project, January 2013). All of the providers above (excluding Google Fiber) has made some sort of deal with Netflix in order to increase streaming speeds. *Note all graphs can be enlarged by clicking on them*
As you can see, the graph shows the average monthly speed the internet service providers’ use in megabits per second. All of the internet service providers (excluding Google Fiber) take a noticeable dip in speed towards the end of 2013 and especially into 2014. As we get a closer look into 2014, we can see the dramatic changes between months.
Each internet service provider (excluding Google Fiber) has about the same type of pattern when it comes to speed and eventually by October 2014, have the same average speed. Ironically, these speeds don’t necessarily compare well to the speeds that Netflix recommends for their service.
Sadly, none of the internet service providers (including Google Fiber) even come close to standards that Netflix provides for their Ultra High Definition service.
This is terrifying because internet service providers are taking in money from both ends (the consumer and the websites) in order to provide internet to their customers. Also terrifying is the comparison to the average download speed by each provider and that allowed to be used on Netflix. As you can see with the internet service providers (besides Bright House as no information was provided), customers of these companies actually have a much faster internet service than they understand. Although, when using Netflix, they don’t quite comprehend as they can’t fully utilize all of Netflix’s services as they’re are restrictions to the site.
Due to overwhelming complaints about their service, Netflix was forced to make deals with many internet service providers.
Here is a better look at the jumps in speed based upon the deals Netflix made with internet service providers (excluding Google Fiber):
Originally it was only Comcast until other companies realized they could mimic the situation.
While each company did see a boost in speed for their Netflix, not a single company (including Google Fiber which didn’t make a deal) can technically reach high definition speeds at the rate they are at despite their average speed being much higher (as shown above).
Now, if you are the standard Netflix user, you might wonder why all of this is important. First of all, this is detrimental to your viewing of House of Cards and Downtown Abby. No one wants a fuzzy screen when watching Kevin Spacey take over the United States one scandal at a time. This could cause a raise in your subscription fee with Netflix so they can continue to afford the content they provide along with paying off the internet service providers you already pay for internet to provide you with their content.
Furthermore, who is to say that they can’t regulate the other billion websites one goes on. Essentially, if the FCC doesn’t do anything, internet service providers can put premiums on web content that they deem unsuitable for their brand. They can make it so you have to pay extra to use YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc. or block access to them. Internet Service Providers can ultimately censor the content.. The idea behind this is imaging Comcast blocking Google with their search results and only allowing a Comcast search engine that has their permitted results. This is why the internet was created. It was so anyone can put up content freely to share with others. Internet service providers can possibly prevent that.
College Humor, while known for their funny skits has put together a short and dramatized video on what possible dangers may occur without net neutrality.
John Oliver goes into depth the topic of Net Neutrality as well while using comedy to help make his point.
Now despite the fact that President Obama endorses net neutrality and has laid out a statement shown below along with a video, the ultimate decision is in the hands of the FCC.
Here is the main points of Obama’s net neutrality plan. If you would like to read the whole thing, click here.
- No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.
- No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.
- Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
- No paid prioritization. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.
There are many different ways you can be an advocate to helping promote net neutrality. According to Reddit, these are three ways to help the movement.
1. Call the FCC and let them know personally.
- Dial 888-225-5322
- Push 1, 4, 0.
- A person will answer.
- They will ask for your name and address. You can just give them a zip code if you want.
- “I’m calling to ask the FCC to reclassify Internet Service Providers as Title Two Common Carriers.”
- They’ll ask if there is anything else you would like to add.
- “No, Thank you for your time.”
- Hang up.
2. Call your local congressmen.
- Go to OpenCongress & type in your zip-code.
- Pick up the phone and call each of the these folks. Believe it or not, someone will answer the phone, and phone calls make a difference.
- Politely tell the congressional staff that picks up to “Have the FCC classify internet as a Title Two common carrier.” Ask them to repeat what they wrote down.
Net neutrality is very important for our society and the continuance of our future. While I used Netflix as an example, they aren’t the only site being affected. They are one of the few that put out the information publicly to display the tyranny that the greedy internet service providers are doing to them as well as us. Protect the internet that we all know and love.
The idea behind this project was actually an accident. I originally had planned out something to do with sports, but I struggled to come up with a solid narrative. Thankfully, when browsing Reddit, I found the article on the Washington Post by Max Ehrenfreund, “This Hilarious Graph of Netflix Speeds Shows the Importance of Net Neutrality.” The single graph is what it took to spark my interest on the information that was provided by Netflix. From their data, I was able to find trends that wasn’t originally in the Washington Post that dealt with the other internet service providers.
At first, my narrative only dealt with the lack of speed that takes part when using Netflix. Although, after talking to some of my classmates (Casey, Nate, and Erin), they suggested I see what the normal speeds are like. This is where I started to check out speed averages using Speed Test. It wasn’t until I discussed my project with my main demographic (users with the same knowledge as my parents) that they had no idea what amount of bandwidth was needed for the quality. This idea they proposed helped me solidify my narrative especially after finding out what Netflix suggests for their service.
Prior to going for critiques, I made sure that I had plenty of graphs to bring my points home. When I did go for a critique, I only started out with the broad perspective graphs to see if they were enough. Thankfully, my preparation was required as my test subjects wanted a more in-depth look that was satisfied by the single graphs. These graphs led to reinforcing my overall argument, but also allowed for the test subjects to see their individual internet service providers. This led to the ending of this blog post as they wanted to be involved in help preventing further nonsense by these corporations.
I will say that I was very impressed that my viewers had no issues with my graphs what-so-ever. They did mention that I should perhaps change the colors to the company’s official colors. I intended to do that until I realize the majority have the same primary colors in their logos and such. With that, I didn’t feel the need to change them as I didn’t want to present a graph that could be easily misinterpreted. I included a key to verify that no one would get confused on the graphs. These were acceptable in the eyes of those I tested the graphs with.
Some problems I ran into were what I expected. My demographic has heard of net neutrality, but didn’t quite understand it. That was my expectation. While they understood my project and saw that it was very interesting, I felt that it was only required to give them a broad sense of net neutrality with the videos to bring home my argument that this is a serious situation. One problem I wasn’t able to fix because I didn’t quite understand how was the overlapping in words on the ISP Netflix Speed Deals graph, but thankfully my other graphs rectify that situation. Finally my only other issue was when viewing the blog post, my test subjects weren’t aware that the graphs could in fact be clicked on and were scaled down for this process. I solved this by noting it in the post. I wish I had installed a script similiar to lightbox prior to this blog post, but I am happy with the current situation.
Overall, I am very happy with how this project turned out. This is by far one of my favorite projects to date as I learned quite a bit through my research. I was also able to transcribe the difficult information (in the eyes of an average internet user; my demographic) and make it so they were clearly aware what is happening with their Netflix right now.
- “AT&T DSL Broadband Performance.” AT&T DSL Internet Speeds. Speed Test, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.
- “AT&T U-verse Broadband Performance.” AT&T U-verse Internet Speeds. Speed Test, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.
- Baumgartner, Jeff. “Bright House Takes Advantage Of Netflix/TWC Agreement.” Cable Television News, Broadcast, Syndication, Programming & Local TV. Multichannel News, 14 Oct. 2014. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.
- “Bright House Networks Broadband Performance.” Bright House Networks Internet Speeds. Speed Test, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.
- Coldewey, Devin. “99 Percent of Comments to FCC Favor Net Neutrality: Study.” NBC News. NBC, 3 Sept. 2014. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
- “Comcast Broadband Performance.” Comcast Internet Speeds. Speed Test, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.
- Ehrenfreund, Max. “This Hilarious Graph of Netflix Speeds Shows the Importance of Net Neutrality.” Know More. Washington Post, 25 Apr. 2014. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.
- “Global Internet Phenomena Report.” Sandvine. Sandvine Incorporated ULC, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
- “Google Fiber Broadband Performance.” Google Fiber Internet Speeds. Speed Test, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.
- Gustin, Sam. “Netflix Pays Verizon in Streaming Deal, Following Comcast Pact.” Time. Time Magazine, 28 Apr. 2014. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.
- “Home.” Netflix ISP Speed Index. Netflix, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.
- “How Can I Control How Much Data Netflix Uses?” Help Center. Netflix, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.
- “Internet Connection Speed Recommendations.” Help Center. Netflix, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.
- Lannon, Bob, and Andrew Pendleton. “What Can We Learn from 800,000 Public Comments on the FCC’s Net Neutrality Plan?” Sunlight Foundation Blog. Sunlight Foundation, 2 Sept. 2014. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
- “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Net Neutrality (HBO).” YouTube. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, 1 June 2014. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
- Luckerson, Victor. “Netflix Is Paying AT&T To Make Movies Stream Faster.” Time. Time Magazine, 30 July 2014. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.
- “Net Neutrality: President Obama’s Plan for a Free and Open Internet.” The White House. The White House, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
- “Only YOU Can Protect Net Neutrality.” Blog.reddit — What’s New on Reddit. Reddit, 13 May 2014. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.
- O’Toole, James. “Netflix Now Has 50 Million Subscribers.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 21 July 2014. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
- “President Obama’s Statement on Keeping the Internet Open and Free.” YouTube. White House, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.
- “Time Warner Cable Broadband Performance.” Time Warner Cable Internet Speeds. Speed Test, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.
- “Verizon DSL Broadband Performance.” Verizon DSL Internet Speeds. Speed Test, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.
- “Verizon FiOS Broadband Performance.” Verizon FiOS Internet Speeds. Speed Test, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.
- “Why Net Neutrality Matters (And What You Can Do To Help).” YouTube. College Humor, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.
- Yu, Roger. “Netflix Cuts Deal with Comcast to Speed Service.” USA Today. Gannett, 26 Feb. 2014. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.