Poor Network Connectivity Chokes Off Lifeblood of the Internet

It's not poor infrastructure causing slow Internet connections, it's poor connectivity between competing ISPs.


The main complaint leveled at Internet service providers (ISPs) is that their connections are slow. Not all of this slowdown is caused by providers dragging their heels when it comes to putting new infrastructure in place — interconnectedness plays a large role. A report from MeasurementLab.net, an Internet performance research firm, examines how the connections between networks are essential, yet growing more congested every year.

These connection points are simply physical connections between ISPs. However, “The traffic that flows through interconnections is the lifeblood of the Internet — nearly all of the value of the Internet comes from the exchange of traffic across networks, even when the ISPs involved are fierce competitors,” the report reads.

Measurement Lab was able to detect significant slowdown at these connection points, but one of the report’s major findings is that the problem isn’t because the infrastructure itself is poor. “ISP interconnection has a substantial impact on consumer Internet performance — sometimes a severely negative impact… business relationships between ISPs, and not major technical problems, are at the root of the problems we observed.” (Emphasis ours.)

Given that these connection points are subject to the whims of business, it’s easy to argue that this is a system in direct opposition to net neutrality. There is no oversight for these connections from consumers, advocacy groups or government officials, so these choke points will likely continue to exist.

And this isn’t speculation. Measurement Lab shows consistent slowdowns across multiple networks, in multiple geographic locations across the U.S.

The report reads:

We see the same patterns of degradation manifest in disparate locations across the U.S. Locations that it would be hard to imagine share any significant infrastructure (Los Angeles and New York City, for example). We thus conclude that the business relationships between impacted Access ISP/Transit ISP pairs is a factor in the repeated patterns of performance degradation observed throughout this research.

Consumers are demanding faster service, both directly and indirectly through increased bandwidth usage. Streaming services are a core part of the Internet experience for many, and they use large amounts of bandwidth. With increased cord cutting, this problem will persist.

Read the full PDF report here for examples of the huge slowdowns at peak hours.