Netflix Admits to Throttling Streaming Video on Major Networks

by Matt Klassen on March 29, 2016

netflix_800x600AT&T and Verizon were back on their heels last week when rival T-Mobile lambasted the carriers for throttling the quality of Netflix streaming videos on their respective networks—admittedly something T-Mobile does as well, but without any data charge—but it turns out that T-Mobile had the wrong culprit in its sights, it was Netflix who was doing the throttling all along.

In an effort to “protect consumers from exceeding mobile data caps,” which may in turn discourage unfettered viewership, Netflix has, for several years now, lowered the default video quality for its service, allowing people to continue to view at a fraction of the data cost. The story has garnered significant headlines, in no small part because Netflix long been a champion of a free and open Internet, opposing throttling and all other forms of network traffic discrimination.

But now that Netflix has been caught—although given that most of the Netflix world has known, or should have known, about this since day one, perhaps “caught” isn’t the right word—deliberately reducing the quality of its own video stream (“throttling” really isn’t the right word for it either), many think that the popular OTT content provider has undermined the fight for Net Neutrality with its seemingly blatant hypocrisy.

It gives rise to the question: Are Netflix’s actions justified given that the company is attempting to save customers from harsh and often punitive data overage fees levied by carriers? I certainly think so.

I’ll say here that Netflix is certainly getting its fair share of negative press over this story, as banner headlines immediately paint a picture of the streaming video service arbitrarily reducing the video quality to make more money or to even better manage its streaming experience, but in reality none of those things are true. Netflix is throttling its video speeds because it has to, because many carriers (most notably Verizon and AT&T here at home) are living in the dark ages and because streaming video can eat through monthly bandwidth like a hungry beaver in IKEA.

The ripple of controversy here is, of course, that Netflix has been extremely critical of carriers in the past, most notably Verizon, who it blamed for shoddy service that was negatively impacting its user experience. Now, despite the fact that Netflix has long taken this action in response to Verizon’s own data policies, you can bet Big Red will use this as ammo for a return salvo.

What bothers me here though is that the media seems largely unaware that this policy was in place (and has been since 2011), and although Netflix made lower quality video the default option, it was transparent in its actions and has always offered an alternative. So while The Wall Street Journal reports that Netflix “hasn’t previously disclosed the practice” of throttling its video speed to 600kb/s I have to say, how the heck did a few lowly writers writers here at theTelecomblog know about it five years ago? More than that, it would be unfair to say that Netflix is targeting Verizon or AT&T networks with its practice, as the company even admitted that it applies these standards globally.

That said, trying to find a sound, reasoned opinion on this issue isn’t easy, particularly given the fact that it emerges in the middle of the ongoing zero-rating controversy, where carriers offer certain video streaming services at no data charge. All I know is that given that Net Neutrality stands opposed to arbitrary network traffic discrimination, and given that Netflix’s entire policy is centred on saving customers from oppressive overage fines levied by money-grubbing carriers, it seems anything but arbitrary.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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