Netflix Settles Throttling 'Controversy' By Letting Mobile Users Throttle Themselves (Or Not)
from the the-controversy-that-wasn't dept
Last month, you might recall that Netflix found itself at the center of some “controversy” after it admitted it was throttling AT&T and Verizon customer Netflix streams to 600 kbps. At the time, the company stated it was only doing so to help out customers on metered usage plans. Netflix also stated that it wasn’t throttling the streams of Sprint and T-Mobile users, since “historically those two companies have had more consumer-friendly policies” (read: still offer unlimited data plans).
The cable industry and net neutrality opponents quickly tried to claim Netflix’s admission meant the company was a hypocrite on net neutrality, with some even calling for an “investigation.” The telecom industry’s PR push was short lived however, given most people realized that Netflix was actually trying to help consumers out, and it’s kind of odd to punish a company for technically throttling its own service. At the end of the day, the consensus was that the only real thing Netflix did wrong was not being fully transparent about what it was doing, and why.
Fast forward to this month and Netflix says it has now released a tool that will let users control themselves whether their stream is throttled, and how much. According to a company blog post, all users on mobile plans will now be throttled to 600 kbps, though you’ll have the option of changing that in the settings of the latest version of the app, including setting it to unlimited streaming. Notes Netflix:
“The default setting will enable you to stream about 3 hours of TV shows and movies per gigabyte of data. In terms of bitrates, that currently amounts to about 600 Kilobits per second. Our testing found that, on cellular networks, this setting balances good video quality with lower data usage to help avoid exceeding data caps and incurring overage fees. If you have a mobile data plan with a higher data cap, you can adjust this setting to stream at higher bitrates. Our goal is to give you more control and greater choice in managing your data usage whether you?re on an unlimited mobile plan or one that?s more restrictive.”
So, the story ends with Netflix giving consumers a tool to manage their own usage, and being totally clear about what they’re doing, which should make everybody happy, right? Not so much. Net neutrality opponents at TechFreedom were quick to blast the media with a press release trying to claim that Netflix was being held to a different standard:
“Three cheers for Netflix for user empowerment, but there?s no principled reason why broadband operators shouldn?t be able to give users the same option,? said Berin Sz?ka. ?The rhetoric for ?net neutrality? has always been about user empowerment. But the FCC wound up writing a hard-line rule that seems to completely ban broadband providers from adjusting video quality even if users want that. That?s crazy. It means consumers won?t get the kind of master interface that can manage quality across all video platforms ? which, in turn, would make ordinary users comfortable experimenting with multiple video platforms.”
That is, unfortunately, a very confused interpretation of what net neutrality actually is. Net neutrality rules are only necessary in telecom due to the lack of competition. Without competition, ISPs can use their monopoly over the last mile to hinder competitors or competing services (of which there are numerous examples), or to give their own services an unfair market advantage (something both Comcast and Verizon are currently doing with zero rating and usage caps). Users can, in stark contrast, stop using Netflix should they find the company engaging in anti-competitive behavior.
Ever since Netflix started speaking out about things like usage caps and net neutrality, the company’s been targeted by the telecom industry and its loyal allies as the very worst sort of villain. In this case, the difference between Netflix trying to help capped users and ISPs using a lack of competition to unfair advantage — should be night and day to most people. Unless of course you’re desperately clinging to the false narrative that net neutrality isn’t a real issue, and think a generation of easily documentable anti-competitive behavior on the part of incumbent ISPs is some kind of mass hallucination.