By Paul Gorski
Netflix is a subscription-based service that allows you to order and view movies and television programs on DVD by mail or stream much (but not all) of the same content over your Internet connection to your television, tablet and or smartphone. The streaming option costs $7.99 per month; DVDs by mail cost $7.99 per month. You can get the pair for $15.98 per month. Learn more about the service plans at https://sign-up.netflix.com/HowItWorks?locale=en-US.
I will be focusing on the Internet streaming option now, with an emphasis on troubleshooting slow streaming speeds to your television and/or television/streaming receiver via your Internet service provider (ISP).
You may watch Netflix offerings on your computer or tablet using Netflix apps. Beware watching the movies on your tablet or smartphone using your cellular carrier’s data plan, as Netflix will gobble up your allotted data very quickly. Many Netflix users stream their movies to their televisions over their home computer networks, very often utilizing a Netflix compatible playing device, such as a Roku or compatible gaming console.
A typical home setup for Netflix involves: 1) your Internet connection; 2) a Roku box (http://www.roku.com/); and 3) a television. You should have a fast Internet connection. So no old dial-up or slow DSL connections. In the Rockford region, Comcast Xfinity Internet offers you the fastest speeds for Netflix streaming. Well, maybe not. More on that later.
The quality of your picture, and whether you can watch movies at their best quality, is partially dependent on your home network connection. You normally connect the Roku (or similar device) to your home Internet connection via an Ethernet network cable or via Wi-Fi. For the most reliable connection, use the wired option, if possible. Wi-Fi signals weaken over distances and are subject to noise and interference, which may reduce your streaming speed and video quality.
So, you have a fast Internet connection and a Roku connected to your Internet connection via a network cable. However, your Netflix movies are coming across in low quality and frequently pause to reload. Netflix will tell you to check your Wi-Fi. They might suggest you upgrade your Roku (or similar device). This may actually work, but not always. Then, Netflix might tell you to talk to your ISP (Internet Service Provider), which for many of us is Comcast.
Comcast will vehemently deny it is intentionally slowing down any streaming service. If you browse the Comcast customer support areas, you’ll find many heated debates about these problems. Many customers are blaming Comcast, which may not be entirely fair.
Comcast support staff might suggest you replace your Roku, too, or to replace your wireless gateway router. Again, these solutions might work, but not always. What is a weary customer to do?
You could replace all the equipment that Netflix and Comcast suggest you replace, but that could cost you some substantial cash. Before you do that, test the streaming connection on a computer or tablet. If the connection is still slow, it isn’t the Roku. It may be the modem-router-gateway. If you rent one from Comcast, ask them to swap it out. If that doesn’t do the trick, you may be out of luck.
It seems Comcast and Netflix are not playing well together. Netflix streaming uses a lot Internet bandwidth, so much so it can “clog” connections to ISPs like Comcast. So, Netflix has a special “Open Connect” program, which provides special network hardware and access to ISPs, so they may pass along the Netflix stream in full digital HD.
Open Connect is free to ISPs like Comcast, but apparently Comcast is not an Open Connect partner. So, while Comcast isn’t slowing down Netflix on purpose, it isn’t doing whatever it can to reduce the Netflix bottlenecks. There’s little incentive for Comcast to do that though, as Comcast also offers movies and television programming.
I’m a bit sympathetic to Comcast in this case, as Netflix is holding Comcast hostage in a way. Netflix is asking Comcast to join its own Open Connect program to get new Netflix customers, but at Comcast’s expense, as Comcast may lose television subscribers. Not that I like the rates Comcast charges for television, but that is a topic for another article.
Sympathies aside, if you are a Netflix and Comcast Internet customer and are at your wit’s end about slow Netflix streaming after trying all the recommended solutions, contact Comcast (or your ISP) and ask them to join the Netflix Open Connect program. You’re paying quite a bit for fast Internet; you should be able to take advantage of the Internet services of your choice.
Let me know about your Netflix experiences.
Paul Gorski (www.paulgorski.com) has been a technology manager nearly 20 years, specializing in workflow solutions for printing, publishing and advertising computer users. Originally destined to be a chemist, his interest in computers began in college when he wrote a program to analyze data from lab instruments he hard-wired to the back of an Apple Iie.
Posted Feb. 11, 2014