Report Finds U.S. Wireless Video Streaming Utterly Mediocre Thanks To Arbitrary Carrier Throttling
from the we're-59th! dept
With net neutrality on the ropes, major U.S. carriers continue to experiment with new ways to nickel-and-dime their subscribers. One of the cornerstones of this new effort involves erecting arbitrary restrictions, then charging mobile consumers extra money to overcome them. Case in point: Sprint’s attempt to charge users more money if they want to avoid arbitrary throttling of games, video, and music. Another example: Verizon’s decision to throttle all video on its network to 480p unless you pay the company for a more expensive, not really “unlimited” data plan.
While carriers like to insist that they only throttle user wireless connections in cases of network congestion, a recent study explored how that wasn’t remotely true. Carriers are increasingly throttling connections just to create arbitrary restrictions, and these restrictions, more often than not, have less and less to do with actual network congestion, and more and more to do with nickel-and-diming subscribers:
“There?s no evidence that any of these policies are only happening during network overload. They?re throttling video traffic even when the network doesn?t need to. It happens 24/7, and in every region where we have tests.”
Another study by Open Signal released last week notes that the United States lags behind dozens of other countries in terms of quality wireless streaming. The report took a closer look at streaming performance across 69 countries, using 90 billion measurements across 8 million devices between May and August of 2018. Countries were then ranked on the quality of their “overall video experience” based on how frequently videos buffered, the resolution of the stream, and overall video load times.
The United States didn’t fare very well. U.S. video quality ranked 59th in terms of overall video quality, and 34th in terms of average speeds. Not too surprisingly, the combination of slower wireless broadband speeds and arbitrary throttling and deprioritization practices carriers engage in are a major reason for the the U.S.’ poor showing:
“Video experience can also be heavily impacted by operator policy. Many operators globally use video optimization technologies to restrict the level of video resolution their customers can access on their phones. As our tests sample video at different resolutions, any downgrading of video quality ? say from HD to SD ? would have an impact on our scores.
The U.S. is a prime example of such policies at work.”
Don’t forget that studies show that U.S. consumers pay significantly more money for mobile bandwidth than users in many developed markets, only to have their actual video quality still ranked terribly. For its part, Open Signal leans heavily on the carrier justification for these arbitrary limits, insisting that they’re done exclusively to protect the network from congestion:
“Depending on the type of video, a 720p stream can consume twice as much or more data than a 480p stream. And as video now accounts for the majority of all mobile internet traffic, a doubling of the gross tonnage of video consumption would have a major impact on any operator’s network. More traffic leads to congestion, and congestion not only impacts overall speeds available to consumers but can also lead to inconsistent connections and poorer latencies ? all of which have a bearing on video experience.”
But that brings us back to that recent study by Northeastern, which showed that carrier throttling of video was in no way related to congestion. Yes, carriers may be eager to tightly restrict video to prevent traffic from being greater to save money, but that may not necessarily mean they’re responding to congestion. As made clear above, most carriers are very interested in erecting artificial tiers of service, where you have to pay more money for a stream to work as the sender originally intended. That’s less to do with congestion, and more to do with trying to make even more money off of American consumers.
With net neutrality dead and federal consumer protection taking a nice long vacation, you’re going to see a hell of a lot more of that type of behavior if the mega-ISPs and the FCC win the looming lawsuit filed by 23 State Attorneys General.