SOUND OFF: Are you having problems with DIRECTV NOW?

How’s DIRECTV NOW working for you? About a week ago, I noticed an uptick in complaints about frozen screens and buffering. Personally I didn’t see any of these problems. What about you?

Is DIRECTV NOW reliable?

Yes, I would say it is. While you hear the statistic that DIRECTV satellite service is 99.9% reliable, there aren’t any statistics like that for DIRECTV NOW, not yet. I think that has to do with all the possible points of congestion that aren’t within AT&T’s control.

Backhaul issues

Backhaul means “getting the signal to the point where it can be distributed. In satellite TV, it means sending the signal up to the satellite so it can bounce down. In streaming TV terms it’s a big more vague and has been used to mean the source signal before it’s streamed. Just like traditional pay TV, streaming TV has to get content from somewhere. It has to come in on a fiber line, or from a satellite feed, or in some cases from an antenna. All of these things can have problems, although usually there’s some sort of redundant solution in place to make sure you don’t even notice that anything has happened.

Backbone issues

Backbone is different from backhaul. Backbone describes the data centers all over the internet that distribute the signal. In order to meet demand, there are servers all over the country that are supplying DIRECTV programming. When you say you want to watch a particular channel, you’re routed to the server that can handle the request the best. I would say that this works very well almost all the time but of course there’s going to be a hiccup now and again.

The local internet service provider

Here’s a little fact that you don’t really want to think about. Your internet service provider has a very finite number of ways to connect to the rest of the internet. Usually it’s not a problem. Sometimes, though, it is. There’s a well-known urban legend that says that Southern California’s Verizon FIOS customers — all of them — were forced to access Netflix through one single port on one switch for a few months in 2012-2013. I don’t know if that ended up being true but a lot of people were claiming it had to do with Netflix choosing not to pay Verizon for some extra super-priority access.

There’s no evidence of any conspiracy, but it’s very possible that the connection between your ISP and AT&T’s servers can become congested. It’s certainly not AT&T’s fault but it does happen.

Problems at the “central office”

Another pain point for internet traffic is the “central office.” That’s usually the windowless building in the center of your town with the phone or cable company’s logo on it. Inside it is all the hardware to control internet connections for your entire area. Sometimes, bad things happen there and it causes entire neighborhoods to slow down.

The local switch

Somewhere in your neighborhood, possibly buried, is a switch that controls the internet access for you and the houses very near you. Problems can occur, things can wear out, but the most common problem there is called oversubscription. That’s the fancy term for, “the kids next door are sucking up all the internet.” Cable TV companies that provide internet usually sell themselves as providing 100Mbps service, but you only get that speed if your neighbors aren’t using the internet at all. If everyone’s streaming, there can be problems. This is actually the most common issue with all streaming. It seems like DIRECTV NOW and live TV services like it are the most susceptible to problems at the local switch because they can’t buffer for 15-20 seconds like Netflix can.

The equipment in your home

You rely on the internet for literally everything and the sad thing is that you probably use the free router the cable company gave you. Think about that for a minute. Your whole life goes through something that was so inexpensive to make that they could give it to you for free. A lot of times you’ll have problems with cheap routers that can be solved by more expensive ones. I’m not saying that problems with DIRECTV NOW are always due to your hardware, only that it’s a possibility.

So, sound off…

Have you had issues with streaming reliability of DIRECTV NOW? If so, are you having problems with other services too, or is it just DIRECTV NOW? Let us know, and I’ll pass along your comments to some managers I know at AT&T’s Customer Care division.