Netflix: U.S. Tops Internet Speed Index. Say What?

In the world of Netflix's new "global" ISP speed index, which the streaming-video service announced Monday, the U.S. takes top honors for fastest connection thanks to Google Fiber, while speedy competitors like Sweden's Ownit and Finland's KYMP come in second and third.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the Netflix global index is really nothing of the sort. For one thing, Google Fiber, which offers service to a fraction of exactly one U.S. city, isn't exactly representative of the nation's Internet as a whole. For another, the Netflix index doesn't even include powerhouses like Korea and Japan, which routinely kick ass in global Internet-speed comparisons.

Of course, Netflix doesn't offer service in Asia, and that's your first clue that its Internet speed index has been assembled for reasons that have little to do with straightforward comparisons of global Internet speeds.

Netflix itself is relatively open about this. It describes its data as a way to "give you monthly insight into which ISPs deliver the best Netflix experience." And that's your second clue as to what Netflix is really up to here.

Netflix has long been prodding ISPs to join its Open Connect content delivery system, which it describes as a dedicated, low-cost video-file distribution system. Many big ISPs in the U.S., however, have resisted Open Connect, even when Netflix began making streams of 3D and high-definition video available only to customers of Open Connect ISPs. Of course, many ISPs offer their own video-on-demand services that effectively compete with Netflix, too.

Coincidentally or not, broadband providers Google Fiber, Cablevision and Suddenlink, all three of which have signed on to Open Connect, happen to top Netflix’s U.S. Speed Index. So it's not hard to imagine that Netflix's newfound interest in providing consumer information about ISP speeds just might have something to do with pushing its content delivery network to as many companies as possible. Especially since Netflix has been known to enlist its customers to call their ISPs for this very purpose.

Without Fiber, The U.S. Is Near The Bottom

While the speeds posted on Netflix's index are far lower than the ISPs themselves would normally claim, the streaming service explains it this way:

The average is well below the peak performance due to many factors including home Wi-Fi, the variety of devices our members use, and the variety of encodes we use to deliver the TV shows and movies we carry. Those factors cancel out when comparing across ISPs, so these relative rankings are a good indicator of the consistent performance typically experienced across all users on an ISP network.

While the U.S. does have a whopping ten ISPs that clear the 2 Mbps threshold, it still has seven providers that fall below that, with Clearwire at the bottom coming in 0.5 Mbps slower than Mexico's Axtel, which clocked in at 1.30Mbps. With 17 ISPs on Netflix's list (and a slew of smaller companies scattered all across the country), that gives us one of the most competitive ISP markets on the planet, making it a shame that we can't all get the speeds of Google Fiber, or at least in the 2 Mbps range. 

Take Google Fiber out of the equation, however, and average U.S. speeds drop to 1.8 Mbps from a reasonably strong 2.3 Mbps. That's only 0.1 Mbps faster than Ireland, and 0.2 Mbps speedier than Mexico, which is last on the list. Finland and Sweden, by contrast, blow away the non-Fiber U.S. with respective speeds of 2.57 Mbps and 2.51 Mbps. Which gives you a sense of just how weak most U.S. ISPs are, even in a not-quite-global comparison.

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