Charter Spectrum's New 'Unlimited' Wireless Service Bans HD Video Entirely

from the just-the-beginning dept

Last week we noted how Comcast had imposed new limits on its shiny new “unlimited” wireless plans. The company informed users of its Xfinity Wireless service that moving forward, all video on the service would be throttled back to 480p, with plans to begin charging you more if you want to watch your video in full HD quality. As we noted then, this was just a continuation of a theme already established by wireless carriers like T-Mobile and Sprint, which involved imposing arbitrary throttling thresholds for games, music and video, then charging you additional money to get around those bogus limitations.

It shouldn’t be particularly hard to see how imposing arbitrary limits that impede your ability to experience content as the originators intended sets a terrible precedent. And should the FCC’s net neutrality repeal survive its looming legal challenge, you’re going to see wireless carriers and ISPs slowly embrace more and more of this sort of thing, at least once they know for sure that the government has zero interest in actually policing such “creative” abuse of a broken market. What we’re seeing now is just the orchestra getting warmed up.

Following on the heels of Comcast, Charter has launched its own wireless service offering that also promises users “unlimited” connectivity. But like Comcast’s offering, Charter’s service will also throttle all video to 480p. The company’s Spectrum Mobile website explains how the industry’s definition of “unlimited data” still leaves a little something to be desired:

“After 20 GB per line, you may experience reduced speeds for the rest of the bill cycle.

There are no additional fees for using your phone as a mobile hotspot. After 5 GB of mobile hotspot data use in the bill cycle, mobile hotspot speeds are reduced to a maximum of 600 kbps for the rest of the bill cycle. Mobile hotspot data counts toward your 20 GB high-speed data allowance. Remember, your laptop may consume more data than your phone would for similar activities.

DVD-quality video streaming is supported. Video typically streams at 480p.”

As Sprint and T-Mobile try to sell regulators on their job and competition-eroding megamerger, one of their core justifications for the deal is that the reduction in total overall competitors from four to three is no big deal because cable operators are tinkering with wireless mitigating any real fallout. But that ignores a few things. Like the fact that T-Mobile’s CEO previously laughed off these services as irrelevant and destined to fail. Or that Comcast and Charter lean on Verizon Wireless’ network for backup, reducing their incentive to disrupt Verizon. And they’ve struck a deal that involves agreeing not to compete with each other.

As a result, Charter and Comcast’s wireless plans are almost mirror images of one another, including the middle finger at net neutrality (aka your right to enjoy content as intended by the service you’re subscribing to without your ISP injecting itself in the process to make an additional buck).

For now, Charter isn’t charging you more to watch videos in actual HD, but you can be pretty certain that’s coming down the road. With ISPs wary of the looming net neutrality court challenge, they’re trying desperately to remain on their best behavior. As such, you’re going to see very glacial moves toward tighter restrictions as these companies try to cash in on the one-two punch of limited competition and napping regulators like Ajit Pai. Initially — like being unable to watch HD video on your phone — they won’t seem like the end of the world, but cumulatively and over time, you can be damn well assured it’s going to hurt.

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Companies: charter spectrum, comcast

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Comments on “Charter Spectrum's New 'Unlimited' Wireless Service Bans HD Video Entirely”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

**Definition of unlimited

1 : lacking any controls : unrestricted unlimited access

2 : boundless, infinite unlimited possibilities

3 : not bounded by exceptions : undefined
the unlimited and unconditional surrender of the enemy —Sir Winston Churchill**

Maybe they mean quasi-unlimited. Don’t we have some laws about truth in advertising?

Sam Moses says:

Woe doggie...

Wait wait wait. Isn’t this wireless service we’re talking about here? Yes, terrestrial carriers are involved, but the services are wireless ones. I would recommend reading the net neutrality rules on this one. They’ve never covered wireless carriers. Even under the system with the FCC, this whole category of services would be exempt. You should probably know that before writing a piece like this.

Doug Wheeler (profile) says:

What is a video?

How are the telcos deciding what is a video? Does is have to use one of the streaming protocols or do they spy on/look at the content of every connection? What if the video is in a format they don’t recognize, or includes embedded streams in addition to the standard audio and video streams? What if it’s just a secure HTTPS connection?

Also, can’t the video sites sue the telcos for copyright infringement for modifying their stream?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What is a video?

What they are doing is simply throttling connections to a data rate that is only good enough for 480p. The video source, noting this low data rate selects that resolution. If the accidentally throttle a files transfer, well it just takes longer. The don’t need to look inside the stream at all, just decide the fastest data rate they will support on an individual stream.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: What is a video?

Don’t forget they have two levels of throttling that they can apply, one is to individual connections and streams, the second and more severe if for all data on the line. That is the difference between being able to stream multiple 480p videos, and only be able to stream one,with stuttering if you try to load a webpage at the same time.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: What is a video?

“You’re suggesting they are ALWAYS throttling to limit the videos to 480p, then throttling MORE after the limit.”

Well, yes, that does seem pretty clear from the description. Did you think that they were telling the truth before hitting the limit about it being “unlimited” when the existence of that limit makes it a clear lie from the start?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: ZOMBIE ALERT! TWO of 5-year gap "account's" 8 comments here!

Not odd at all to make 8 comments over 6 years, then suddenly TWO on one minor topic, eh?

Or more likely a Zombie Master keeps taking over old accounts to make the site look more interesting? — Note also the many wacky names for one-time use (though have given up on “female” ones), and the entirely uniform supportive opinions those and the outright zombies have, never any actual dissent to Techdirt’s views, all of which I find indicative.

Ninja (profile) says:

They really should stop calling these shit unlimited. If they had to add a pair of quotation marks for every caveat their unlimited branding includes it would be something like:

SIGN UP FOR OUR “”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””unlimited”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””” plan.

ECA (profile) says:


you take a Youtube video,
Hand it to a computer to CHANGE THE SIZE..
Send it to your customer..
Umm..ASK Youtube how EASY THIS IS..
its not.
YT, DOES, change the Videos themselves into Multiple formats and Sizes..BUT YOU LOOSE DETAIL..and thats BAD.

What this gets the corps.,..
WOW, not they have more bandwidth..Even if they promise(???) a certain speed, YOU WONT GET IT, because they restrict it.. They restrict those features that USE HIGH BANDWIDTH..
Wondering the net, is nothing.
Reading email is nothing
Facebook, is NOTHING..

What WILL HURT, is all the Videos, FB is trying to show you…they will SUCK. and take longer to even COME UP on display..

How is this we can explain this to a 4th grader in ways they will Understand, PERFECTLY..
but Corps WONT.

Dear Data Users says:

Technology Costs Money

Why do people not understand everything costs money. More bandwidth consumption requires more in equipment, data circuits etc. And tomorrow companies will have to spend millions to upgrade to handle more and more data consumption plus to support new technology that changes every month. There will not be innovation unless it can be profitable. The government can’t force companies to provide you a service at a loss. No profit means no money for R & D! Besides the current administration will only address issues that line the pockets of his family and friends. The tax break everyone was all excited about will be eaten up for all but the ultra rich after we all start paying more for everything we use due to tariffs.

maidenheadtaxiservice (profile) says:

Maidenhead Taxi Service

We take pride in our service, as we aim to please our clientele by providing a safe,
comfortable and fast service. We specialise within the Berkshire region where all
our vehicles and drivers are licensed and registered with the Royal Borough of Windsor
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