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Verizon admits to throttling video in apparent violation of net neutrality

Verizon admits to throttling video in apparent violation of net neutrality


Optimization or throttling?

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Photo: Chris Welch / The Verge

Yesterday, we reported that Verizon Wireless appeared to be throttling Netflix traffic, — and today, the company seems to have come clean. In a statement provided to Ars Technica and The Verge, Verizon implicitly admitted to capping the traffic, blaming the issue on a temporary video optimization test.

“We've been doing network testing over the past few days to optimize the performance of video applications on our network," a Verizon Wireless spokesperson said. “The testing should be completed shortly. The customer video experience was not affected.”

This is a really weird statement, seemingly referring to something completely different from what customers actually experienced. What customers saw wasn’t optimization, but a clear cap, with tests from Netflix’s speed-test tool showing measurably lower rates than non-Netflix tests.

If this is what Verizon means by optimization, it looks an awful lot like throttling

While Netflix was the only service to have a speed-test tool producing measurements, it now appears that similar caps were applied to all video applications on the Verizon Wireless network.

A subsequent statement from a Verizon representative took issue with this article, calling it “dead wrong” and saying that it “makes no sense.”

“We are constantly testing the network,” the representative said. “It's what we do, to optimize performance for our customers. The test was across the board, and did not target any individual applications.”

At the same time, the representative confirmed that a 10Mbps cap was in place for some users. “The consumer video experience should have been unaffected by the test,” the representative wrote, “since 1080p video is HD quality and looks great at 10 [Mpbs].”

Those clarifications seem consistent with an across-the-board throttle on video applications, put in place without any disclosure to customers. It’s true that, as we pointed out in our initial article, many users would not be able to perceive a 10Mbps limit on video speeds. Still, if that’s what Verizon means by optimization, then it looks an awful lot like the throttling scenarios net neutrality advocates have been warning about for years.

It’s worth remembering that Title II is still officially the law of the land, and although the FCC is doing its best to roll it back, Verizon Wireless is still legally a common carrier regulated under Title II, which means it’s obligated to treat all traffic equally. There are some exceptions to that for network management, but throttling a specific service is a textbook violation of those rules. Netflix traffic was clearly, tangibly being treated differently from other traffic, and customers hadn’t opted into any special service like Go90 that might justify it.

We asked Verizon whether they believe these tests are in violation of Title II. We’ll update with any response.

Update July 21st, 2:40PM ET: Updated with subsequent statement from Verizon. Because the statement indicated the limits were applied to all video applications, we’ve updated the headline from “throttling Netflix” to “throttling video.”