Verizon denies using net neutrality victory to sabotage Netflix, Amazon

February 5

(PeterJBellis)

After a federal court said last month that the government couldn't prohibit Internet providers from slowing or blocking Web traffic, at least one ISP is being accused of  taking advantage of the ruling.

On Wednesday, a Texas man named David Raphael wrote on his blog that Verizon was intentionally throttling Netflix subscribers and other Internet users who rely on Amazon's cloud computing service. Verizon quickly denied the complaint, saying it continues to treat all traffic equally.

Raphael, a software engineer for the cloud-based security firm iScan Online, said he was first alerted to the problem on Jan. 26 when the president of his company complained of "major slowdowns" while using iScan remotely. After determining that nothing was amiss with iScan's product, Raphael returned home to find that his own connection to Amazon Web Services — on which iScan runs — had been degraded.

Connections to AWS were limited to 40 kBps, Raphael said — about 240 times slower than the 75 Mbps fiber optic connection Raphael was paying for. Raphael discovered that even content hosted on AWS by others, including Netflix, was also slower.

"This scenario is impacting different AWS folks," he said in an interview.

Thinking the error could be part of a wider phenomenon, Raphael said he tried loading the same content as though he were in the office by "remoting" in. The office connection was normal, at 5,000 kBps. So the problem appeared limited to Raphael's home and that of iScan's president — both of which are on Verizon FiOS.

When Raphael contacted Verizon about the issue, a customer representative acknowledged that Verizon was "limiting bandwidth to cloud providers":

(David Raphael)
(David Raphael)

It's worth treating the rep's statement with a great deal of skepticism; the chances that this one person is completely aware of everything the company is doing seems pretty remote. Still, this was after the representative asked Raphael to perform various diagnostic tests, including a speed test using Verizon's own software, which showed Raphael's service was otherwise running normally at 75 Mbps.

"We tested some Google downloads and tested downloading SketchUp [a form of 3D design software]," said Raphael. Everything seemed to perform smoothly; only AWS loaded slowly.

An AWS spokesperson did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

In a statement to the Washington Post, Verizon said it was investigating the report and that the customer rep was misinformed.

"We treat all traffic equally, and that has not changed," the statement read. "Many factors can affect the speed of a customer’s experience for a specific site, including that site’s servers, the way the traffic is routed over the Internet and other considerations. We are looking into this specific matter, but the company representative was mistaken. We’re going to redouble our representative education efforts on this topic."

Under the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules, broadband companies were forbidden from slowing down or blocking connections to content. That prohibition was struck by the D.C. Circuit court last month, enabling companies to legally throttle service if they chose. Verizon suggested in oral argument last fall that it was interested in different service models.

"I’m authorized to state from my client today that but for these rules we would be exploring those types of arrangements," said Verizon's lawyer, Helgi Walker.

The FCC has said it intends to seek other ways to help keep the Internet open.

Both the report and the denial leave us in a pretty murky situation. Since I'm a FiOS subscriber, you can be sure I'll be testing this myself from home tonight.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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