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How one man bypassed internet congestion and fixed his Netflix streaming

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On today's internet, the shortest route is sadly not always the best

Colin Nederkoorn, a startup CEO living in New York City, was unhappy with his Netflix service. He pays Verizon for FiOS service that promises 75Mbps down. But when he tried to stream video, it was a miserable experience, with buffering and low-definition pictures. So Nederkoorn decided to measure the speed of his connection. What he found was that when he was streaming Netflix he was getting speeds of just 375kbps, or 0.5 percent of what he was paying Verizon for.

To try to fix the problem, Nederkoorn began using a virtual private network, or VPN, which could essentially act as a virtual ISP that would route the traffic he requested from Netflix through a different set of connections than the ones being used when he went through Verizon. The results were pretty astounding: his speed increased to 3,000kbps and Netflix video streamed without buffering, and in much higher quality.

The VPN connection allowed Nederkoorn to avoid the congested routes Netflix data has been traveling over to reach consumers. He was using VyprVPN, a service from Golden Frog, which he pays $15 a month for. "We go out of our way to avoid Level 3, not because we think they are bad guys, but because we know they are feuding with Verizon," says Philip Molter, the company's CTO. "We manage to get it over a link that isn’t as congested."

The video from Netflix is going over a more complex route when using a VPN, taking additional hops across different transit providers — and yet because it's avoiding the congestion being generated by this business dispute, the consumer ends up with a much better experience.

"I don't have a lot of sympathy for them when they can't deliver on that."

Nederkoorn says he understands that the poor-quality Netflix stream he was getting over Verizon was as much about a business dispute between two companies as it was about Verizon's infrastructure. "I use Valve's service, Steam, to buy computer games. When I test the speed on that, I can download several-gigabyte games at very near the optimum speed I was promised with my subscription." But, says Nederkoorn, in the end, he doesn't really care if Netflix or Level 3 share the blame. "I pay Verizon for a certain level of service, and as a consumer, I don't have a lot of sympathy for them when they can't deliver on that."