ISP Interconnection and its Impact on Consumer Internet Performance

A Measurement Lab Consortium Technical Report

WASHINGTON, DC - Researchers working with the Measurement Lab Consortium (M-Lab) have released a new study on the impact of network interconnection on consumer Internet performance. The report, ISP Interconnection and its Impact on Consumer Internet Performance, examines M-Lab’s extensive network performance dataset to understand consumers’ ability to access and use Internet applications and services across the US. This research reveals that consumer access and performance are directly affected by the business relationships between interconnecting Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Further, the impact on access and performance was often strongly negative, leading in some cases to long periods of sub-broadband performance across the nation. M-Lab’s extensive research demonstrates the critical role of open measurement in helping policy makers, engineers, and the public ensure reliable, ubiquitous Internet access for future generations.

M-Lab’s groundbreaking report reveals that the customers of the largest US consumer-facing ISPs experienced dramatically poor performance when connecting to core Internet transit infrastructure, performance often well below the FCC’s four-year old definition of “broadband.”

“The careful work done by M-Lab researchers exposes patterns of severe Internet performance degradation across the US, and suggests that ISP business relationships are a source of these problems,” said Vint Cerf, Internet Pioneer and M-Lab Steering Committee Member. “This is the first work of its kind, using open data and reproducible methods to expose complex performance issues at scale. This research highlights the critical role of open data and transparent research in maintaining an accessible and open Internet: without knowing the scope or extent of the problems, we cannot act to remedy them. M-Lab researchers provide an inspiring template that I hope to see expanded and adopted broadly.”

“The new M-Lab report delivers the first comprehensive analysis of Internet performance during the months of service degradation across America in 2013 and 2014,” said Larry Peterson, Robert E. Kahn Professor of Computer Science, Emeritus, at Princeton University and Measurement Lab Steering Committee member. “It is a major contribution to the Internet research community and demonstrates how data science can bring insights to help solve technical, regulatory, and market problems.”

Key among M-Lab’s findings are:

  • Customers of AT&T, Comcast, Centurylink, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon experienced continual sub-broadband performance from early 2013 until late February 2014.
  • For months at a time download speeds for major consumer ISPs were less than 0.5 Mbps, the minimum rate deemed necessary for web browsing and email.
  • Evidence points to business relationships between ISPs, and not to a systemic technical failure as the cause of performance problems.
  • Performance problems were most pronounced at peak use hours, as consumers connect to media content during the evening. This pattern points to network congestion and under-provisioning as a factor in observed problems.
  • In some cases, degradation caused by congestion continues to affect consumers.

To ensure that researchers, consumers, and policymakers receive practical benefit from this research, M-Lab is launching the Internet Observatory alongside the report. The Internet Observatory provides a dynamic data-visualization, allowing users to explore ISP performance across interconnections, and better understand the impact of ISP relationships on their own Internet access and performance. The Internet Observatory will be updated regularly, allowing future monitoring and comparison against past performance. The Internet Observatory can be found at: http://measurementlab.net/observatory.

M-Lab is committed to open, reproducible science. In this spirit, M-Lab makes its full dataset available in the public domain, for anyone. M-Lab researchers have also released careful documentation of the methodology used to complete this study, and have provided source code that will allow others to easily retrieve the data used and reproduce the results. Anyone interested is invited to look into the data and extend this research, ask questions, and make suggestions.

Press Kit

A press kit is available for download containing a PDF of the technical report, this press release, Measurement Lab branding, and all graphics and graphs included in the report.