ISP Rankings: Why Google Loves Comcast and Netflix Prefers Cablevision

Streaming Video Services Publish Reports to Pressure Providers

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Google has put broadband companies on notice. If you stream YouTube videos poorly, we will call you out.

YouTube's parent company has created a tool for people to see how well -- and how poorly -- internet service providers (ISPs) deliver YouTube video streams. Google's Video Quality Report ranks ISPs by state, city or zip code and appears designed to help people looking to switch broadband companies.

The report is a strike of sorts against ISPs. Content providers like YouTube and Netflix are battling ISPs' ability to compel those providers to pay for an ISP to deliver their content at high quality. So far they are losing the fight.

The Federal Communications Commission had tried to require ISPs to treat all internet traffic equally -- an effort called "net neutrality" -- but lost its case in court in January. Now the FCC has proposed new "net neutrality" rules that would forbid an ISP from slowing speeds for a given content provider but allow them to charge those companies for faster delivery speeds.

Netflix and YouTube are the biggest targets of these content delivery costs. Taken together the two companies account for 47% of North American internet traffic, according to broadband infrastructure company Sandvine's latest figures.

If ISPs want to pick at YouTube's and Netflix's wallets, then the two companies are doing the same by each publishing speed rankings to drive awareness of which ISPs do the best and worst jobs delivering video. The publicity could pressure ISPs to improve their video-streaming quality or risk losing customers to competitors that offer superior quality.

Comcast, Cablevision top honors
The data is not apples-to-apples. Netflix ranks the top 16 biggest ISPs nationwide, while Google breaks down ISPs by state, city and zip code, grouping them into a three-tiered speed hierarchy: high-definition, standard definition and lower definition. In Google's rankings, an ISP could rank in different tiers in different states, and ISPs in the same tier are considered equal. In Netflix's rankings, an ISP's per-state speeds are averaged and then matched against others'.

To make a comparison, Ad Age converted Google's numbers on the top-16 ISPs into a list by weighing the rankings (HD rankings were multiplied by 3, SD by 2, LD by 1), adding them up and dividing them by the number of states served. Unscientific, to be sure, but one way to see who's doing the best/worst job over many states.

Interestingly Comcast appears to do the best job streaming YouTube videos, but only third-best for Netflix, even though Netflix has agreed to pay Comcast to deliver its videos at the highest quality. Presumably that deal, signed in February, may change future rankings. Netflix's top ISP, Cablevision-Optimum, ranked No. 6 on Google's list.

It's also worth noting that Google doesn't appear to be including all ISPs in its rankings. For example, Bright House, Mediacom and Clearwire do not appear on any of Google's statewide rankings. A Google spokesperson did not immediately respond to a question regarding why some providers were not listed.