Internet video company Netflix has been throttling video for customers watching on AT&T and Verizon mobile networks for more than five years, the company admitted, claiming that it was in fact in customers’ best interests.
The firm says it was just trying to “protect consumers from exceeding mobile data caps” according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. AT&T and Verizon customers are limited to streaming Netflix content at 600 kbps (kilobits per second) which means a reduction in video quality compared to the non-capped version.
Sprint and T-Mobile have not throttled because “historically those two companies have had more consumer-friendly policies” Netflix stated, referring to the fact that those mobile operators have slowed users down to 2G speeds when their data limit is exceeded rather than imposing over-use fees.
Sprint on the other hand was throttling nearly all mobile video until it came under fire to stop the practice last year, and T-Mobile is currently marketing it’s “Binge On” program, a controversial program which allows customers to watch unlimited video from a selection of services but only at “DVD quality” which means 480p resolution.
Today, streaming two hours of Netflix video at HD quality could use up to 6 GB of data, vastly exceeding many of the data caps imposed by US carriers.
Netflix said that in May this year it will launch a new data saver option giving people the ability to favour bandwidth or quality, by choosing themselves.
The issue recently struck the headlines when T-Mobile US CEO John Legere said that AT&T and Verizon subscribers were getting low quality video. The latter carrier has denied throttling video.
AT&T’s senior executive VP of external and legislative affairs, Jim Cicconi, claimed the carrier was outraged to learn that Netflix was throttling customers without their consent.
Meanwhile Netflix has been a strong supporter of net neutrality rules, especially because losing those protections could impede traffic for subscribers or force it to pay extra to Internet Service Providers (ISPs). It’s own video throttling is not technically a violation of FCC policy as it is not classed as an ISP.
On the whole, many Internet video companies use a technology called adaptive bit-rate streaming (ABR) to dynamically adjust the video bit-rate in response to network conditions, such as latency, jitter, and the available over-the-air bandwidth. Those techniques generally aim to keep the video playing with annoying pauses (buffers), but always try to maintain the highest possible quality.
Larry Banks is a keen follower of technology and finance. He has worked for a variety of online publications, writing about a diverse range of topics including mobile networks, patents, and Internet video delivery technologies.