With net neutrality fresh on the minds of many in the United States, it seems that the data speeds at which Verizon Wireless customers can stream Netflix videos have quietly been capped in some instances. A tipster directed The Verge to this Reddit thread, where numerous users have reported that they’re unable to reach download speeds any faster than around 10Mbps when connecting to Netflix as well as Fast.com, a speed test tool that’s powered by Netflix’s servers. The Verge has reached out to both Verizon and Netflix for comment. A Netflix spokesperson replied “We are definitely not capping data on our end and don’t cap data for any mobile networks.”
I’m a Verizon customer myself (on the current unlimited data plan) and my own tests seem to confirm that something is going on. When running a Fast.com test, I’m hovering between 5Mbps and 10Mbps and never see anything higher. Jumping over to Ookla’s Speed Test tool, I’m getting more typical and faster rates of around 40Mbps. Users at Howard Forums are also experiencing the cap, with some claiming that it’s being applied to YouTube in addition to just Netflix.
The vast majority of Verizon Wireless customers would be unlikely to notice problems or experience any interruptions with a speed cap of 10Mbps for Netflix. That’s more than sufficient for smooth, full HD 1080p video playback. Trying to stream 4K video would lead to issues, but no one’s really watching 4K on their phones yet.
Until one or both companies provide clarification, it’s a bit early to point the finger at Verizon. Last year, Netflix admitted that it had for years silently put a limit on the maximum connection speeds of AT&T and Verizon smartphone users. The logic at the time was that most consumers were on tiered or bucketed data plans and Netflix was saving customers from themselves and expensive phone bill overages. Eventually, the company introduced quality controls right inside the Netflix app to give subscribers greater choice over their own quality preferences and data usage. And you’ve now got the option of downloading content for offline viewing.
Verizon rivals AT&T and T-Mobile include some level of video “optimization” (better described as throttling) as part of their base unlimited data plans. Sprint does not, and Verizon has never given any indication that it would put a limit on video streaming speeds for unlimited customers. Again, without direct comment from either company, it’s difficult to know whether this is a form of intentional network oversight, an error/bug, or an issue on Netflix’s side of things.
After wavering back and forth some, Netflix returned as a strong defender of net neutrality in June, even while acknowledging that it’s too big and too popular to be impacted by FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s desire to rescind Title II and the net neutrality rules imposed under his predecessor.