Sorry, House of Cards fans — America is just about the worst place on Earth to catch the much-anticipated second season of the Netflix hit.
That's because U.S. Netflix viewers will, on average, watch it at slower streaming speeds than just about anywhere else.
A year ago, the U.S. was rather middle-of-the-pack when it came to average Netflix streaming speed. But while most other countries have boosted their speed, the U.S. average dropped nearly 10 percent over the last year.
And as of last month, the average U.S. Netflix speed bested only that of Mexico — and just barely — and of Argentina, where Netflix just arrived last month.
Much of the U.S.'s dropoff can be attributed to two of its biggest Internet service providers. Comcast and Verizon customers have seen their Netflix speed drop by around 10 to 25 percent in the past year.
Verizon FiOS had the smallest speed drop, but still fell from No. 2 to No. 7 among U.S. providers since November of 2012. Comcast plummeted nearly 25 percent, and Verizon DSL — the slowest-streaming ISP in the world — also fell in excess of 25 percent.
In light of the recent court decision overturning net-neutrality rules, some may look askance at this slowdown because the decision cleared the way for providers to charge high-bandwidth websites more — or slow traffic to those same sites. (Stephanie Stamm)
But Verizon's and Comcast's speeds began slowing down noticeably months before the D.C. Circuit Court's decision. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings reportedly does not believe the laggard speeds are the result of any mischief on Verizon's part, and isn't overly concerned that Verizon will do so in the future.
Instead, demand is the likely culprit. Netflix makes up an outsize share of Internet traffic. According to a recent study, the bandwidth glutton accounts for almost 30 percent of traffic at peak hours.
This trend isn't likely to change anytime soon as subscriptions for the video-streaming service continue to roll in. Netflix added 2.3 million subscribers in its fourth quarter, and many people attribute this growth to its original programs, like House of Cards.
As a quick fix, Netflix has been encouraging Internet service providers to use Open Connect, a program that improves streaming quality by allowing ISP's to pre-download Netflix's most popular programs in advance of online TV's rush hour. It doesn't hurt that that saves Netflix a pretty penny. Major ISPs like Verizon and Comcast, however, have not signed up for Open Connect.
So where's the best place to watch House of Cards? On average, according to Netflix, it's the Netherlands, which has only offered the streaming service for four-plus months.
There's some solace to be had for U.S. viewers, albeit very few of them. Those lucky enough to have access to Google Fiber — the tech giant's ultrafast Internet service that's deployed in only a few U.S. municipalities — enjoy the highest-speed Netflix viewing in the world.
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