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 Szóka. “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.

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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 6:34am

    How dare they offer better control to their customers and make us look like the assholes we actually are! - Some telecom executive out there

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 6:34am

    "a very confused interpretation of what net neutrality actually is"
    If only they were actually confused instead of malicious, because then they could be educated.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 6:45am

      Re:

      Remember that some people lash out even when you honestly show them they don't know what they're talking about. I doubt being mistaken would make a difference, here.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 9 May 2016 @ 6:50am

    We could have ripped off our customers for millions if it weren't for those pesky kids and their dang app that gives our customers control. - Robber Barons of the Telecom Industry

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whatever on drugs, 9 May 2016 @ 7:04am

    "and think a generation of easily documentable anti-competitive behavior on the part of incumbent ISPs is some kind of mass hallucination."

    I'm not hallucinating. Those voices in my head are real!!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 7:15am

    Can't imagine where the confusion comes from.

    One more time; sending a smaller file is not throttling. I guess if everyone keeps using the wrong word to describe what Netflix does the meaning will just change. But then we should come up with a new term for "the intentional slowing of Internet service by an Internet service provider."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      CrushU (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 9:54am

      Re: Can't imagine where the confusion comes from.

      I think it's a conflation of terms.

      Bitrate is a measure of transfer speed for data over the internet. It's also a measure of quality for a audio/visual pieces; (roughly) how many bits are processed per second. A lower quality file has a lower bitrate, and a lower filesize.

      It's only 'throttling' if you think that the video bitrate also means the transfer bitrate, which it doesn't. A 600kbps bitrate file can be sent faster than 600kbps...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Jeremy Lyman (profile), 10 May 2016 @ 4:52am

        Re: Re: Can't imagine where the confusion comes from.

        Yes, that's an excellent distinction to explain. If Netflix preloaded video they could still send a downsampled version for less total throughput (MB) even though it might take only a few seconds (MB/s) to transfer 30 mins of tv. Further, "throttling" is a general concept in computing, every reference in this "controversy" has been using it when they mean "broadband throtting." We're not talking about process throttling or CPU throttling (which are fine and useful techniques) because the general public has learned that "throttling bad" because broadband throttling has been an unseen form of abuse perpetrated by ISPs and we're finally catching on that it is usually warrant-less and bad.

        It's the difference between swapping 100W bulbs for 20W LEDs so your total electric bill is less every month vs the power company limiting your lamps to only 20W and dimming the lights.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          M. Alan Thomas II (profile), 10 May 2016 @ 4:49pm

          Re: Re: Re: Can't imagine where the confusion comes from.

          It's the difference between swapping 100W bulbs for 20W LEDs so your total electric bill is less every month vs the power company limiting your lamps to only 20W and dimming the lights.
          And then demanding an extra "high-wattage bulb" fee on top of your actual electricity costs if you want to go higher.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 7:44am

    "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 Szóka.
    Netflix is a optional subscription; the internet works fine with or without it. ISPs are nothing more than a FUCKING PIPE, regardless of how many clever mergers they pull off or how many content providers they buy or how desperately they're trying to rebrand themselves as something else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Robert Beckman (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 7:40pm

      Re:

      They're right, there's no principled reason why broadband providers can't provide the same throttle control that Netflix does. For $10/month they could provide unlimited bandwidth and uncapped data usage, just like Netflix, and even throw in a Nostalgia Control Panel (with Bonus Modem Connection Sounds) so you too can show your kids what the Internet was like in the 1990's. Do that, and everyone wins.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 7:45am

    A false underlying assumption

    The critical responses to Netflix' action deeply assumes that ISPs and content providers are, or should be, in the same business.

    They are still trying to move that goalpost.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 8:01am

    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 all fairness to the telecom industry, I'm pretty sure they'd target Netflix as the worst sort of villain even if Netflix remained silent. With HD streaming video taking customers from cable TV and highlighting the general inadequacies of broadband and cellphone data plans(simply by actually attempting to make full use of claimed bandwidth), Netflix is just the sort of company that would piss the telecom industry off regardless.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    CrushU (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 9:51am

    Baseball?

    The rhetoric for ‘net neutrality’ has always been about user empowerment.

    Strike One!
    Net Neutrality has always been about not obstructing user choice.
    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.

    Strike Two!
    Because broadband providers are not video providers. The way this relates to Net Neutrality is that a broadband provider is not supposed to know anything about what sort of data is being sent, nor are they supposed to treat certain data as 'special'. (Outside of load balancing and network infrastructure issues.)

    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.

    Strike Three!
    Why would anyone expect you to manage quality across different platforms? That's why they're different platforms. Some will give you more (or better) options than others, that's the nature of competition.

    YOU'RE OUT!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jeremy Lyman (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 10:55am

      Re: Baseball?

      But... but... don't you wish UPS would open your boxes and replace the contents with worse versions of whatever you really ordered? Consumers should be able to choose to make their lives worse from a single control panel! Now that's innovation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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