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Google Starts Playing The ISP Shame Game

Taking a page from Netflix’s monthly ISP Speed Index, Google has begun to track and present results showing how well U.S. broadband providers are performing when it comes to streaming YouTube videos at HD quality.

YouTube product manager Jay Akkad touted the Google Video Quality Report in this blog item posted on Thursday, noting that “[n]othing ruins the experience of watching a YouTube video…than seeing the dreaded buffering wheel, which is why we’re always working to make videos play smoothly in the best quality possible.” 

Google’s ratings system (this video goes into more detail) claims to represent the video streaming quality a user can expect (at least 90% of the time) when watching YouTube via ISPs in a specific region. By rating, here’s how the system breaks down streaming quality:

  • HD Verified: Achieved if the ISP can consistently deliver HD video, a resolution of at least 720p, without buffering or interruptions.
  • Standard Definition: If ISP delivers videos at a resolution of at least 360p.
  • Lower Definition: If ISP delivers YouTube streams that load slowly or frequently buffer, even at resolutions lower than 360p.

Rather than Netflix’s approach of presenting a ranking of ISPs around the U.S. and in other countries in the same report, Google’s version lists ISP video streaming performance in specific geographic regions (a user's local area is the default setting, though rankings from other areas can be viewed by simply plugging a new zip code into the system). Rankings are based on measurements taken over a 30-day period.

In a region that included the Philadelphia area, Google gave HD Verified status to Comcast, Verizon FiOS, Atlantic Broadband, Cablevision Systems, PenTeleData, and RCN, and SD status to Armstrong, AT&T, Verizon DSL, Windstream, Frontier Communications, Hughes Networks (satellite Internet), and Cavalier Communications. In this particular region, Covad Communications (now MegaPath) was given the dreaded lower definition label.

Google also issues a similar report for Canada, and, according to Akkad, plans to post reports from other countries in the coming months.

The U.S. report is coming into view as the FCC moves ahead on a new Open Internet rulemaking effort, and amid complaints from Netflix that it reluctantly agreed to paid interconnection deals with major ISPs Comcast and Verizon Communications. Netflix, which has called on the FCC to pursue “stronger” network neutrality rules that factor peering agreements into the discussion, prefers that ISPs join Open Connect, its private content delivery network that leans on Netflix-supplied edge caches. Google has a similar, invite-only initiative called Google Global Cache that also uses network edge devices to "serve popular Google content, including YouTube" and its growing slate of free, ad-supported and subscription-based channels.

And just last week, Google Fiber, which currently offers broadband service in small pockets of Provo, Utah, and the Kansas City area, took aim at paid interconnection deals, announcing that it allows corporate cousin YouTube, Netflix and others to colocate servers in its fiber facilities for free.