The Netflix Throttling Mystery – The VPN Solution?

There is of course a big problem with the most popular sites on the internet, and that’s the amount of  traffic they generate.  As our use of media sites like Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Hulu which stream video across the net increase then so do the costs for the people who have to carry that traffic – the ISP.

IS Netflix Being Throttled

It’s kind of tough when you think about it, each time someone subscribes to Netflix, the ISP of that customer will see their traffic usage sky rocket.  Combine this with some users downloading hundreds of Gigabytes a week from BitTorrent sites and you can see there problem.  Each customer will cost more and more to support, while these other companies effectively transmit their service over your infrastructure.   If all ISPs charged a bandwidth costs, that wouldn’t matter much – but the current status is that due to competition most offer unmetered access.

The big telecoms giants in America seem to have come up with a solution, although it’s not a terribly popular one.  Comcast and Verizon are being increasingly suspected of throttling traffic to these sites, especially to the vastly popular Netflix.  This effectively means that your data is un-metered normally but the speed will be capped when you access specific sites or transmit certain data like streaming video or accessing BBC iPlayer, Netflix or Hulu for example.

On the whole, this behavior is generally denied, it’s commercially bad news to admit that you will cripple the speed of some of the world’s most popular sites.  It’s of course, extremely annoying to watch a film and wait every ten minutes for it to buffer!

The evidence is mounting and some users on Comcast and Verizon have discovered that if they stream video over a VPN connection then they see huge speed increases.  A virtual private network of course shouldn’t increase your speed at all, you are adding another hop to the journey of your data, plus a layer of encryption too.  Although the fastest VPN providers like . will normally see minimal performance impact you wouldn’t expect to see a huge speed boost.

Speeding Up Netflix Yet this is what seems to be happening to many – stream direct from Netflix and your connection will struggle.   Fire up a VPN connection and stream through that some people are getting 10 or 20 times the throughput.  This increase has been reported by many people who have repeated the test using different sites and VPNs.

There are some other potential explanations, one of the most plausible is that some network pipes are simply becoming saturated.  If Netflix traffic is normally travelling down specific links to reach these big telecom providers, then there’s going to be a huge amount of traffic there.   Watching Netflix in the USA over a VPN will provide an alternate route, perhaps one with little congestion – hence the speed boost.

The jury’s out at the moment, both these scenarios could be true.  It’s definitely the case that using a VPN not only allows you access to the different language variants of sites like Netflix (Canadian or UK users can get US Netflix for example) but also boosts speed significantly.

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