Frontier’s slow video streaming platform is too fast for most of its California copper customers

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Outer limits intro

Fewer than half of Frontier Communications’ legacy copper, i.e. DSL-only, homes in California can watch more than one high definition stream at a time on its chosen video streaming platform, Philo. More than a quarter can’t even watch one HD stream, and 14% will get jerky, low quality video, if they can get anything at all. That’s my conclusion after crunching Frontier’s most recent (as of 31 December 2018) broadband availability figures, and comparing them to Philo’s bandwidth requirements and the actual performance estimates used by other streaming services.

The first clue that Frontier is trying to dumb down customer expectations instead of providing modern broadband speeds is that Philo doesn’t offer 4K quality video, which is the 2020 consumer video standard. Philo’s service is limited to 1950s standard definition (SD) and 1990s high definition (HD) video formats. Philo’s website provides a helpful guide to the bandwidth needed to watch those streams…

13 Mbps – Recommended for reliable HD streaming, even with multiple streams or other devices using the same network.

7 Mbps – Stream one HD video. If multiple devices are streaming or using the network at the same time, there may be buffering issues.

3 Mbps – Stream SD quality video.

Under 3 Mbps – Video quality is reduced. Philo may load slowly or rebuffer.

Frontier, like other Internet service providers, advertises its broadband speeds as “up to” a particular level. Netflix discounts advertised speeds when advising its customers. It recommends they subscribe to a service advertised at 25 Mbps download speeds in order to watch 4K video, which streams at 15 Mbps. Applying that Netflix discount to Philo’s recommendations for its lower quality service results in:

  • 22 Mbps – multiple HD streams.
  • 12 Mbps – single HD stream.
  • 5 Mbps – SD stream.
  • Less than 5 Mbps – SD streams will be slow and jerky.

Frontier reports it advertises either 1 Mbps, 6 Mbps, 12 Mbps or 25 Mbps download speeds to the 1.3 million housing units in California it serves with DSL-only broadband service. It also claims to provide fiber to the home (FTTH) service to 1.6 million Californian homes at 100 Mbps download speeds. And there’s a significant number of homes that are in Frontier’s telco monopoly territory that can’t get any kind of broadband service from Frontier. The analysis below just looks at the homes that can get Frontier service via DSL, but not FTTH:

Frontier philo video service by county 31dec2018 data

Siskiyou and Tehama counties lose out completely on family style, high definition video viewing – 12 Mbps is the best it can deliver via DSL there. More than a quarter – 26% – of Frontier’s Tuolumne County DSL homes can’t watch Philo video at all or, if they can, it’s poorer quality than the original mass market television standard that was set more than 60 years ago.