Slow Internet is Online Gaming’s New Final Boss


HOST INTRO: What do New Yorkers hate more than bed bugs and MTA service changes? Calling Time Warner Cable customer service. One in three New Yorkers has Time Warner, and close to that number has a horror story about the cable company. Last month, New York Attorney General announced that his office was prosecuting Time Warner for fraud. Their office received thousands of complaints about internet speed. The 16-month investigation that followed yielded some evidence from an unlikely source: an online gaming platform known as League of Legends. Devin Briski has the story.

 

Ambient: League of Legends music

 

BRISKI: Nikkone Widdi is showing me around a supernatural landscape. Mages, beasts, and fantastical creatures fight each other using virtual weapons and magical powers. It’s an online battle arena.

 

Ambient/ Widdi: This is my character Fiddlesticks, so let’s lock him in.

 

BRISKI: Widdi is very good at this game. At one point, he was the highest ranked League of Legends player in the world. In fact, Widdi was so good, that people would pay to watch him play. He didn’t want to discuss how much he made, but he did say that the most popular League of Legend streamers can make as much as $40,000 a month! But to make that much money, you have to be great. And Widdi had one major obstacle to greatness: his internet service provider, Time Warner Cable.

 

WIDDI
Time Warner Cable would always throttle the internet. From around 5pm to midnight, I could not play League of Legends at all. (0:10)

 

BRISKI: Widdi experienced latency and packet loss—technical terms for very slow internet. These issues caused him underperform—sometimes even to lose.

 

WIDDI
Your character would not be responsive. If you clicked to move him, it would not register that for 2 or 3 seconds, which is—it’s not playable. Sometimes you would just randomly disconnect out of the game. You would just be behind everyone else that did not have Time Warner Cable. (0:17)

 

BRISKI: Widdi spent hours speaking with customer service and technicians. They sent people to his house to check out his modem. But nothing worked. This went on for over 2 years.

 

WIDDI
Every time they have a different excuse, and that really is what is frustrating. Nothing would ever actually fix the problem. It feels like there was something on their end that they were not telling me about. (0:11)

 

BRISKI: So Widdi was suspicious about the answers he was getting. And a few weeks ago, he learned his intuition was correct.

 

SCHNEIDERMAN:
The allegations in today’s lawsuit confirm what many of you have long suspected: Spectrum Time Warner has been ripping you off. (0:11)

 

BRISKI: That was New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at a press conference last month. He is suing Time Warner for misrepresenting their internet speed. And a key piece of evidence comes from Riot Games, the creator of League of Legends. When you log onto the internet, data flow through ports that connect service providers. And when these ports are congested, the internet is slow. But Time Warner didn’t add new ports or upgrade existing ones. Instead, they allowed the ports to become congested. Then they offered content providers like Riot the opportunity to bypass these ports and connect to their subscribers directly—for a fee. This is called “paid peering.” Columbia professor and internet expert Vishal Misra explains.

 

MISRA:
It’s in the interest of ISPs to create congestion, then they can leverage their monopoly power to force the content providers to go for paid peering. (0:10)

 

BRISKI: The investigation revealed emails that suggest Time Warner was doing this on purpose. One said, “We really want content networks paying us for access and right now we force those through transit that do not want to pay.” For over 2 years, Riot Games didn’t pay. This is why Nikkone Widdi couldn’t play from 5pm to midnight. But what Time Warner didn’t count on was extreme backlash from their customers. Backlash that eventually made its way to the Attorney General.

 

SCHNEIDERMAN:
AFter a 16-month investigation, we found that the company conducted a deliberate scheme to defraud and mislead New Yorkers by promising internet service the company knew it could not deliver.

 

BRISKI: The lawsuit is ongoing. If Time Warner loses, they’ll have to compensate all of its New York subscribers for slow internet access. As for Widdi, he’s taking a break from League to focus on school. But he hopes next time he plays League, his biggest adversary will be a fellow competitor—not his cable company.

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