Study finds Web traffic deals to blame for slow speeds

People across the country are experiencing slow speeds on the Internet thanks to the complicated system Internet service providers (ISP) use to connect people to the Web, according to new analysis. 

Research out of the New America Foundation’s Measurement Lab (M-Lab) said that constant problems with slow speeds are not due to a systemic failure with the structure of the Internet, but instead the business relationships Internet companies make to hand users from one network to another. The exchange of traffic across ISPs is known as interconnection.

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“[W]e conclude that ISP interconnection has a substantial impact on consumer internet performance — sometimes a severely negative impact — and that business relationships between ISPs, and not major technical problems, are at the root of the problems we observed,” the researchers wrote.

Interconnection congestion causes slower speeds at the busiest times of the day, when the Web becomes overloaded with traffic, the paper found.

For months at a time, the download speeds for major ISPs was just 0.5 megabits per second, a rate deemed just fast enough to browse the Web and check email.

Vint Cerf, an early Internet pioneer and member of M-Lab’s steering committee, praised the research as “the first work of its kind, using open data and reproducible methods to expose complex performance issues at scale.”

Interconnection deals usually happen well outside of the public’s view, though they have recently taken a front seat in some tech policy conversations.

After Netflix criticized a number of ISPs for the interconnection deals it signed to connect directly with their subscribers and skip middleman Web providers, the Federal Communications Commission announced it was going to review the deals.