STREAMING SATURDAY: Sometimes it’s not evil

Don’t jump to conclusions. Pretty good advice in life and here on Streaming Saturday, it’s even more true. I’ve taken the reins from Jake Buckler this week to tell you a story, something that happened in my life that’s timely and maybe even helpful.

It starts about five years ago. Hard to believe but streaming TV was pretty new back then and it was common to have buffering issues, especially at peak times. So I wasn’t super surprised when I couldn’t get HD video from Netflix when watching at night during peak hours. Funny thing was, all the speed tests worked really well, my circuit wasn’t congested and I could stream from other apps just fine. (Well, the few other apps there were back then, and it’s not like there were a lot.)

For a few weeks I just accepted the blurry picture. When the buffering problems got really bad, I just watched something else. And then… I started to do some research. I found other people with the same ISP I had who reported the same thing. I found a LOT of other people. And the truth began to come out.

It seems, there was PRECISELY ONE gigabit network switch that supplied Netflix programming to the ENTIRE SOUTHERN HALF OF THE STATE, at least the part that shared the same ISP I had. Well, there’s your problem. Rumors flew that my ISP had a “paid prioritization” program and Netflix didn’t want to be a part of it. So, they were punished. I don’t know if that was true.

If this had happened in 2016, I could have filed a complaint with the FCC, because at that moment in time internet service was classified under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. I could have said that my ISP was unfairly throttling Netflix, and doing it on purpose. But this wasn’t 2016, and so I just sat back and waited. Eventually things got better, and I am not sure why. But they did get better.

Well, flash forward to last week. As Buckler will tell you, I’m an Apple guy. I was thrilled when Apple and Amazon finally made up and the Prime Video app hit my AppleTV. Even though I have about a dozen other streaming boxes, AppleTV is my primary one and so it’s really nice now to watch The Grand Tour without pulling another box out of the closet or “casting” from my iPad. Everything was great until…

December 14, 2017. Which, by the way, was the day that the FCC rolled back Title II protections over the internet, changing the way we look at the “net neutrality” argument. It was also the day my Prime Video app stopped working. In fact, all my Prime Video apps stopped working, including the ones on my phones — both iOS and Android. It took me a day or so to realize that my mobile apps worked great on cellular and on other people’s internet, and another day to find out that other people in my neighborhood were having the same problem and that other internet service providers weren’t.

Hm. I said. This sounds like the Netflix problem all over again.

By then it was the weekend and I resolved to use this blog and every other social media avenue I had to say, “Hey look! The ink’s not even dry on the new FCC rules and already my internet provider is screwing me. Fight the power! Fight the power!”

Except, that wasn’t true and it really was a coincidence. The problem fixed itself Sunday night, and when I called on Monday morning I got a really nice and honest-sounding person who said that a critical piece of equipment had become overloaded due to the high demand for Amazon Prime Video and it took a few days for the replacement part to come in and get installed. The problem was limited to my area, it wasn’t even a problem in the next town over.

So the moral of the story here? Sometimes the internet provider isn’t the bad guy. Sometimes he’s not just waiting for a chance to screw the little guy. Sometimes, things break and hard-working people work hard to get them fixed. Sometimes it doesn’t take an act of Congress or a new doctrine to get people to do the right thing. And what do you know, sometimes your internet provider isn’t just waiting for the first possible opportunity to mess everything up for everyone, just to pad his pockets.

Have a great Saturday, everyone!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.