Saturday, March 05, 2011

Net Neutrality: Perhaps I’m suffering without it:

Let me say right off that I connect to the Internet via Verizon. I use a DSL modem, not FIOS. And I can only speculate about my problem.

We bought a CC Crane Internet radio that gives me access to hundreds of classical music stations. It also gives my wife a clear signal from her favorite public radio station. When we first got the radio, I left it on a lot, as one does with radios in general. You don’t have to listen, but they provide a great background for daily life.

Except for the ten and twenty second silences.

Before the radio can play any stream, it must buffer some seconds of audio. Then, despite the vagaries of internet transmission, it can play continuously. A severe delay in the delivery of audio causes the radio to stop playing and buffer data again. Meanwhile it displays “buffering” on its little screen. And while it is buffering, we are losing some of the radio station's talk, or its music.

There are many issues that can cause buffering problems. For example, the radio stream station may be overloaded and falling behind while delivering its audio. But I tried a simple experiment, and it raised my suspicions. I’m now careful to turn the radio off unless I’m listening to it. I play it a lot less. And I rarely have buffering problems. Consequently, it feels as if my internet provider was punishing me for trying to keep a stream of one million bits per second going. (That stream is far less than the rated capacity of my DSL connection.)

I can’t help wondering whether Verizon is capable of noticing that I am enjoying an audio stream, and it is giving me a gentle hint that I might do better to upgrade to FIOS and get all my entertainment direct from them. I’m not accusing Verizon, I’m just wondering. Because, given the lack of Net Neutrality, Verizon is free to punish me in this way, if it chooses to do so.
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