Netflix has admitted to throttling the video streams of its customers on AT&T and Verizon mobile devices, a practice it confirmed has been in effect for more than five years to “protect consumers from exceeding mobile data caps.”
Speaking with The Wall Street Journal, the company said it doesn't throttle video on Sprint and T-Mobile due to more lenient policies enacted by those carriers that favor slower network connection when data plans are exceeded, instead of overage fees. T-Mobile was at the center of its own throttling controversy earlier in the year, thanks to its free video streaming service Binge On.
To continue its transparency on the subject, Netflix announced a new feature coming to its mobile apps that will grant subscribers more control over their streaming. Called "data saver," the update will let users decide to stream lower-quality video if they have a smaller data plan, or increase to higher-quality video if they have a larger data plan. Netflix said it's "on track" for data saver to launch in May, and plans to release more details closer to launch.
To justify the previous half-decade of secret throttling, the company cited a study it completed recently that pointed to an apathetic response by most users regarding the quality of streaming on their smartphones, with a larger percentage worried about the quality of streaming at home on a television. Still, it hopes moving forward that the new data saver feature will level the playing field and give every one of its subscribers the chance to control their preferable mobile streaming quality.
We believe restrictive data caps are bad for consumers and the Internet in general, creating a dilemma for those who increasingly rely on their mobile devices for entertainment, work and more. So in an effort to protect our members from overage charges when they exceed mobile data caps, our default bitrate for viewing over mobile networks has been capped globally at 600 kilobits per second. It’s about striking a balance that ensures a good streaming experience while avoiding unplanned fines from mobile providers.
Netflix stepped forward to accept the downgraded video claims about a week after AT&T and Verizon both became the center of accusation about throttled Netflix videos on their respective service plans. The streaming video company has publicly backed Net Neutrality since the FCC enacted the open-internet rules last year, and believes its practice of capping video to prevent unexpected user fees is striking a balance that "hasn’t been an issue for our members."