After T-Mobile CEO John Legere accused his rivals of throttling Netflix video last week, the streaming service came out and admitted it was slowing down its own streams. Netflix has, for more than five years, capped its video streams at 600Kps for telecoms around the world, including AT&T and Verizon, to "protect consumers from exceeding mobile data caps." The reason: Netflix fears customers may stop using its service if streams gobble up too much of their monthly data, according to The Wall Street Journal. However, the company positioned the move in a blog post as a tool for "avoiding unplanned fines from mobile providers."
"Verizon delivers video content at the resolution provided by the host service, whether that’s Netflix or any other provider," a Verizon spokesman told WSJ. AT&T was less thrilled. "We’re outraged to learn that Netflix is apparently throttling video for their AT&T customers without their knowledge or consent," said Jim Cicconi, the company's senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs. Netflix is planning a "mobile data saver" sometime in May that would help customers manage video streaming quality to keep their data caps in check.
Netflix wants to "protect consumers" from mobile data caps
The news complicates Netflix's image as a supporter of open internet principles. The company, which is responsible for a significant amount of web traffic, has been an adamant — if sometimes opportunistic — supporter of net neutrality for years now. It's used the stance of large telecoms like Comcast and Verizon to paint itself as both a champion of unfettered and equal access to the internet and a victim of corporations who wish to charge it additional money for direct connections to their networks.
The new revelations, however, indicate that Netflix's stance on net neutrality may not be as cut and dried as it once seemed. The cracks in Netflix's position began appearing last fall, when T-Mobile introduced its Binge On initiative that exempts certain streaming video services, including Netflix's, from its customers' monthly data caps. Netflix has said in the past this so-called zero-rating perk is not a net neutrality issue. But Binge On, which caps all non-Wi-Fi streams to 480p, has repeatedly caused issues for T-Mobile, with Legere publicly fighting with the Electronic Frontier Foundation over whether Binge On constitutes throttling. Meanwhile, the FCC may open a federal investigation into zero-rating practices to see if they violate net neutrality principles.