Verizon Throttles Netflix Subscribers In 'Test' It Doesn't Inform Customers About

from the just-the-beginning dept

So for years Verizon Wireless refused to compete on price, insisting that the company's network was just so incredible, it didn't have to. Then came increased competition from T-Mobile, which forced the company to not only start competing a little more seriously on price, but to bring back unlimited data plans Verizon had spent years telling customers they didn't need. And while Wall Street cries about this rise in competition hurting earnings at least once a week, it has generally been a good thing for consumers.

But there's two things waiting just over the horizon that could ruin everybody's good time. One is a looming merger between Sprint and T-Mobile, which would significantly reduce competition in the wireless sector, eliminating much of the pressure on mobile providers to compete. The other is the impending death of net neutrality protections at the FCC, which currently keep these carriers from abusing this lack of competition to drive up costs and hamper content competitors.

But another, important part of net neutrality rules is the requirement that carriers are clear about just what kind of connection you're buying. Last week, Verizon apparently got a running start in being less transparent when it decided to begin throttling its wireless customers without telling anybody. Users at Reddit began noticing that when they streamed Netflix content or accessed Netflix's Fast.com speedtest, their connections were magically limited to 10 Mbps. When they used other companies' speedtests or used a VPN to mask their traffic, they received the full speed of their mobile connections.

To be clear, being restricted to 10 Mbps isn't that big of a deal in and of itself. 10 Mbps is more than enough to stream video at 1080p60 and 1440p30, though users say they're running into buffering at 1440p60 or 4K (not that most users care about 4K content on mobile devices anyway). But it was the fact that Verizon couldn't be bothered to tell anybody this was happening that's raising a few eyebrows. And when pressed, Verizon was only willing to give a rather vague answer about how they were simply conducting "tests" that didn't hurt anybody:

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

So while Verizon's throttling shouldn't be construed as the end of the world, you'd probably understand why Verizon, one of the most vocal opponents of net neutrality, would raise a few eyebrows by conducting tests like this without telling anybody. Consumer groups like Public Knowledge were quick to point out that one of the benefits of net neutrality rules is the assurance it gives customers that it can trust what carriers are saying:

"The guidelines distinguishing ‘throttling’ from ‘reasonable network management’ developed as part of the FCC’s investigation into T-Mobile’s Binge On service provided precisely this certainty. Unfortunately, Chairman Pai’s decision to rescind the report and to reopen the net neutrality proceeding have created massive uncertainty and suspicion.

“Before, Verizon could simply point to the FCC guidelines to reassure their customers. Today, we must look to Chairman Pai to tell us whether subscribers have anything more to rely on than Verizon’s promises. Rather than undermining consumer confidence and creating needless confusion, Chairman Pai should end his misguided efforts to roll back the FCC’s net neutrality rules any further."

As the net neutrality protections (and the FCC's authority overall) are slowly but surely gutted, this uncertainty is only going to grow. Carriers will begin pushing to see just what kind of behavior Ajit Pai's FCC will let them get away with, and given Pai is repeatedly on record believing neither net neutrality nor a lack of competition are real problems, there's not going to be much, if any, regulatory pressure to behave. Combine that with a major reduction in competition from a looming wave of Trump-approved mergers and acquisitions, and there's certain to be less organic market or regulatory pressure keeping these mono/duopolies in line.

Filed Under: fcc, net neutrality, tests, throttling
Companies: netflix, verizon


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jul 2017 @ 11:29am

    Re: I can see both sides

    "On the other hand, did it affect everyone or just the "uber-nerds" who run speed tests to make sure they can get 4K data streams even though their mobile devices can't support 4K."

    That's irrelevant. And it leads down a stupid path of saying "oh that'll never happen" to a bunch of things that eventually happened. I guess you'll never need more than 160K of memory in your computer? The whole point of making sure consumers are getting what they pay for is to allow the business who USE the internet to innovate. If Netflix is being throttled to 10Mb/s, even if that affects almost no one right now, it affects what Netflix will be able to do in the future. Even if almost no one is currently streaming 4k, throttling it will make it nearly impossible for 4k to take off if it was going to.

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