BUSINESS

Netflix Canadian debut reveals worrying limits of net infrastructure

TAGs: bandwidth, Netflix

Undoubtedly, most of you reading this work in the online gaming industry. A good percentage of you probably do some kind of US-facing online business, as well. But have you ever stopped to consider how fragile is the whole online ecosystem that supports your business? (And we’re not just talking about the internet running out of addresses.)

worrying-limits-net-infrastructureOnline movie providers Netflix made their Canadian debut on Sept. 22, and by any barometer, it was quite a hit. Ten percent of the nation’s internet users partook of the site’s streaming video service in its first week of availability. In terms of bandwidth, Canadian Netflix usage was twice that of Canadians visiting YouTube.

The phenomenon isn’t specific to Canada. During peak periods, Netflix alone accounts for some 20% of all North American online traffic. To make matters worse, that 20% is being gobbled up by just 2% of the company’s subscriber base. In other words, if even 10% of Netflix subscribers decided to stream a movie at the same time, North America’s online infrastructure would likely buckle under the weight of all those 1’s and 0’s.

Scientists are doing their best to create digital workarounds to maximize the existing infrastructure, but given that online traffic requirements are doubling every two years, tweaks will only accomplish so much. Currently in the US, just 15% of households have a fiber optic connection directly to their home. Another 75% have a fiber link to their neighborhood hub, but the signal must then travel down an old coaxial cable or copper wire to the home. The remaining digital tortoises rely purely on either copper or coaxial.

Ultra-fast systems already in place in nations like Japan and South Korea are a prime reason why median monthly data consumption in Asia is almost 12 gigabytes per household compared to just 4 gigabytes in North America. To bring the US up to speed, western telecom companies will need to embark on sweeping infrastructure upgrades, which will cost boatloads of money. To recoup these sums, they will demand increasingly higher fees from their customers, some of whom will have deeper pockets than others. This will likely doom any lingering hopes of maintaining what we’ve come to know as net neutrality. And it’s all the fault of Netflix. Thanks a bunch, Harry fucking Potter.

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