YouTube starts rating US ISPs, puts its weight behind settlement-free peering

Google (S GOOG) released an U.S.-focused version of its video quality report Tuesday, which offers users a way to check which of their local ISPs deliver the best-looking YouTube streams. The report is singling out some ISPs as “HD verified” which YouTube Product Manager Jay Akkad defined this way in a blog post:

“If your provider can consistently deliver HD video, a resolution of at least 720p, without buffering or interruptions — it’s HD Verified.”

The report also shows which ISPs are capable of delivering SD quality video without buffering, and which ones deliver videos at a lower performance, or in other words will leave you completely frustrated. To get to these results, YouTube monitored streams over a 30 day period. Only ISPs that were capable of delivering HD at least 90 percent of the time are being called HD verified.

Here’s how results look like for the San Francisco Bay Area:

google video quality report sf

Google first released this kind of video quality report for Canadian ISPs in January. By extending it to the U.S., the company joins the likes of Netflix, (S NFLX) which has been pushing U.S. ISPs for some time to improve video streaming quality, and has its own ISP speed index that ranks streaming performance for customers of various service providers.

Netflix’s explicit goal for calling out low-performing ISPs was to get them to deploy its OpenConnect content caching devices within its networks. Google has similar caching appliances, called the Google Global Cache, and is also directly peering with ISPs to deliver video streams without any additional middlemen. However, Netflix learned the hard way last year that some of the bigger U.S. ISPs were unwilling to host their caching appliances and instead preferred to enter paid peering arrangements.

Netflix has since entered such deals, in which it pays ISPs for peering to improve streaming quality, with Comcast (S CMCSK) and Verizon. (S VZ) At the same time, Netflix has argued that ISPs abuse their market power when they charge ISPs for peering and appealed to the FCC to step in.

Google has at least publicly remained largely on the sidelines of this discussion. Last week, the company chimed in by pointing out that its Google Fiber internet access business doesn’t charge content providers for peering. Asked whether Google pays ISPs for peering to improve YouTube streaming quality, a YouTube spokesperson sent me the following statement via email today:

“We don’t talk about individual arrangements. Free peering arrangements are the industry norm, since it’s a win-win for all parties, and that’s the way the vast majority of our agreements work.  In limited cases, additional resources are needed to set up the peering, and some money may be involved as part of the business arrangement. But Google has never asked for preferential treatment of traffic, and we always work to reduce ISPs’ costs by interconnecting or deploying caching infrastructure as close to ISPs’ viewers as possible.”