Netflix rates ISP performance: Don't use it as a buying guide

Summary:Netflix has issued performance ratings of Internet service providers based on the throughput of high-definition streams, but you should probably use these ratings for entertainment purposes only.

Netflix has issued performance ratings of Internet service providers based on the throughput of high-definition streams, but you should probably use these ratings for entertainment purposes only.

Here's the money chart from Netflix's ISP ratings, which could give you eye strain if not expanded:

Now looking at this chart, you'd conclude that we should all be running to Charter for cable service right. Not quite. The big takeaway here is that cable companies do fairly well with Netflix and telecom carriers don't. That conclusion is a bit misleading.

For instance, the telecom results for AT&T and Verizon include both DSL (faster than dial-up, but pokey) and new services like FiOS and U-Verse. My performance---I have Verizon FiOS---is going to make the telecom look better on this chart while the guy with DSL the next town over is going to hurt the Netflix rating.

Here are a few observations worth noting.

  • Charter has the best performance for Netflix, but you can find plenty of people complaining about the cable carrier. Charter is rated bottom of the ISP barrel, according to Consumer Reports. Charter told CNet News that it is "strives to consistently deliver the fastest and most reliable Internet service." But I can go to a Charter locale, spin in a circle and hit someone that hates the company. Simply put, if people had choice they wouldn't be a Charter customer. In 2009, Charter filed for bankruptcy and emerged a few months later so perhaps service is improving.
  • Cable companies benefit from lack of legacy services. Cable providers all rate high on the Netflix scale because they don't have the DSL shackles. Verizon, Qwest and AT&T do. A better move would be to show DSL and the performance of newfangled networks separated. Consumer Reports also rates AT&T 's U-Verse and Verizon FiOS as the two top major ISPs. In other words, don't use the Netflix rankings as an ISP buying guide.
  • Clearwire is thrown under the bus unnecessarily. Looking at the Netflix data you'd think Clearwire was a dog. In fact, it's just the opposite. Clearwire is the only wireless carrier on Netflix chart. That means that Clearwire's 4G service is fast enough for consumers to stream Netflix. Clearwire's appearance on the Netflix chart shows how 4G changes consumer behavior. You'll also notice that Clearwire can outperform lower-ranked wired rivals from time to time.

Topics: Mobility, Broadband, Browser, CXO, Hardware, IT Employment, Networking, Telcos

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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