In our recent article "Why YouTube buffers: The secret deals that make—and break—online video," we described how battles between ISPs and streaming video providers can have a dramatic impact on video quality in customers' homes.
The chief issues? ISPs refusing to upgrade peering connections to relieve congestion and ISPs refusing to take YouTube owner Google and Netflix up on their offers of free caching equipment that puts video content closer to the last mile. To a cynical eye, it looks like ISPs either want money from Google and Netflix or want to degrade Google and Netflix quality to drive users to their own services.
But there are exceptions, mostly among small ISPs. RCN, a regional provider in Chicago, Boston, New York, Washington, DC, and parts of Pennsylvania, took Netflix up on its offer (called Open Connect), and its decision is justified by the data. Netflix has published its first regional speed index, just for the Boston area, and it showed that "the average speeds for Netflix streams on the RCN network in Boston outperformed other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) by as much as 70 percent. This means that those Netflix members who were also RCN customers enjoyed better picture quality, quicker access to their favorite TV shows and movies, and more reliable playback delivered via the Internet from Netflix, especially during peak viewing hours."